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False Gods and Politics: A Letter to Rick Santorum

Columnist Heather Borden Herve says the GOP presidential candidate is crossing a dangerous political line, threatening a core American belief.

Dear Mr. Santorum,

While I respect your right to hold your personal religious beliefs to the high standard you have set for yourself, I respectfully request that you refrain from using them to try to change our current laws or to campaign on a platform promising that you will govern using religious tenets.

Because I don’t think any one faith should be used as a tool to tell anyone else how they must live. And I believe that our democracy was created on the foundation that religion and government should be separate.

Respectfully yours,

Heather Borden Herve

Former Senator Rick Santorum, running for the nomination as GOP presidential candidate, makes me very afraid. Recent statements he has made indicate his desire to impose his religious beliefs on our legal and governmental systems, should he be elected. That ideology is a very dangerous one.

I take no issue with people who choose to observe and practice their own faiths. In fact, I’m a member of a congregation and I’m teaching children my family’s faith. I just don’t want to be told that Santorum’s religious faith—or anyone else’s—has to be something that impacts how I live my life and the choices I can make. I object to politicians using religion to restrict my own health care choices or the way I choose to educate my children, as well as the potential for it be used to dictate something far worse—as the basis for fighting a war against another country.

This past Sunday, Santorum answered questions on the Sunday morning political talk show circuit regarding his beliefs on the church and state relationship. He told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week”: "I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state are absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country ... to say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes me want to throw up."

Santorum was responding to Stephanopoulos’ question about earlier remarks he’d made, saying a 1960 speech given by President John Kennedy made him “want to throw up.” In that address, Kennedy was reaffirming his own commitment to keeping church and state separate—because the country was concerned JFK’s catholic faith would lead him to take direction from the Vatican and the Pope. My, my—how did we turn 180 degrees in just 50 years?

The same morning, Santorum said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that separation of church and state was "not the founders' vision."

Um, actually, it was their vision.

Religious freedom has been a fundamental tenet of our democracy from moment one, as an article of the Constitution and as part of the First Amendment. There’s also a local connection that shows it was part of the belief system of at least one founder—Thomas Jefferson penned the phrase “separation of church and state” in a letter he wrote to the Danbury Baptists in response to their concerns over the lack of protected religious freedoms in Connecticut, just after the turn of the 19th century.

In his words, Jefferson stated: "... I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."

There are similar quotations from James Madison, widely regarded as the father of the Constitution, reaffirming his belief in the separation of church and state. Similarly, in a speech Ronald Reagan delivered in 1984, he defended the need for government’s neutrality toward all religions, and not putting one faith ahead of another:

“We in the United States, above all, must remember that lesson, for we were founded as a nation of openness to people of all beliefs. And so we must remain. Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism. We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief.” [emphasis mine]

Politicians who use religious justification to prevent women from accessing contraceptive choices are hypocritical. They are most often conservatives who also advocate smaller government with reduced oversight over personal action. But that’s exactly what restricting access to healthcare is—government’s over-involvement in personal matters.

It’s also thinly-cloaked code with just as much basis in political motivation, in an effort to garner more votes with conservative, evangelical voters—many of whom will likely turn out to vote during next week’s Super Tuesday primary.

The religious rhetoric is just as powerful when it’s used to criticize President Obama. Santorum called the President’s religious beliefs a “phony theology” and said Obama’s policies are “not based on the Bible.” Santorum later criticized the President’s apology after US soldiers in Afghanistan recently burned copies of the Quran burnings. This is not only disrespectful to those who follow the Islamic faith, but also seems to be a wink and a nod to some voters who believe that the President is hiding his “true” Muslim faith.

Guarding the principal of separation of church and state should be priority for all politicians, especially those running for the nation’s highest office. For it protects our basic freedom:  the government can’t tell you how to worship and what to believe. It’s just as important to protect the reverse:  that no church or religious belief should dictate the way our country—the country of all of us­­—is governed. To do anything less sacrifices the foundation of our most precious democratic foundation.

Editor's note: This article originally was published at 5:59 a.m. The time stamp has been changed for layout purposes on the Home page Darien Patch.

D. Fuchsen February 28, 2012 at 12:31 PM
The intrusiveness of dogma- and an increasingly rabid dogma- into not only public discourse but public policy, is cause for alarm. Increasingly we are being told what we can accept as science, what we are allowed to believe as "history", what is acceptable as "medicine", what books to have in our public libraries, and how-or if- we are allowed to have families and conduct our lives with them, based not on scientific method, factual observation, or personal well-being, but on an increasingly idea of what "Gahd" wants. We are told that education is snobbish and tolerance is subversive. We are being told that concern for ordinary citizens who are struggling is "class warfare". And we are being told that "Gahd" wants us to treat other faiths with contempt and wage wars of aggression on those who practice them. Peace, we are told, is subversive, cowardly, and unChristian. Those of us who protest on behalf of the public commonweal are called "cultural Marxists". Where will we be if we allow these fanatics to dictate public policy and private behavior? We will have become a crueller, more ignorant nation, one that will either go mindlessly to a last and fatal war, or be left behind by those who still have the power to think. One way or the other, we will be plowed under and sown with salt. We must not let that happen. We must not become Carthage.
Tom Wilson February 28, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Policy and law are made by people. People are influenced by a lot of things, including socioeconomic status, geography, culture, ethnicity, education, and religion, among others. Politicians bring those influences to bear on their decisions. The Constitution does not promise you insulation from people's beliefs. That's why you have a vote. People who feared that JFK would turn to the Pope for advice on governing DID NOT VOTE FOR HIM. The highly political speech he gave to assuage people's fears was, in fact, an intentional overreaction designed to preserve VOTES. I think Rick Santorum is a nut job, but I don't think he intends to infuse government with religious doctrine or dogma. What he DOES intend to do, if he is elected, is try to shape policy and law based on his beliefs. That's not unconstitutional--in fact, that's what our Constitution gives him the freedom to do. There's a difference.
Carole M. Adams February 28, 2012 at 06:43 PM
A well written, well thought out argument, Ms. Herve. Thank you. These men think that if they put God on the ballot, they will win the hearts and minds of voters. And they may garner votes from fundamentalist groups. But this is NOT A theocracy, and the Founding Fathers did not intend for it to be. Believe what you want. Practice your religion, and serve your faith. Be happy that we live in a country where those rights are protected. Just remember that protecting freedom OF religion, is as important as protecting freedom FROM religion.
A.J. Minhas February 28, 2012 at 06:55 PM
Rick Santorum is a very dangerous individual, because he actually believes the dogma he espouses. He is emblematic of the dangerous shift to the radical right, which the GOP has recently undertaken. Separation of Church and State is a fundamental tenet to our constitutional democracy. Mr. Santorum's lunatic denials of these laws and the distortion of JFK's speech on religious separation between the church and government is further evidence of his extremist, fringe radicalism.
Concerned Mom February 28, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Um…in actuality, the founding fathers did not advocate separation of church and state. John Adams: "We have no government armed in power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.", October 11, 1798. Thomas Jefferson: "Religion, as well as reason, confirms the soundness of those principles on which our government has been founded and its rights asserted.", 1815. The words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the US Constitution. The Supreme Court brought this term to law in the 1950’s. What should frighten this author is the increasing and unconstitutional power grab of the current administration. Sanctioning religious institutions for practicing their beliefs, wholesale takeovers of industries in the form of bailouts and mandating purchases in the form of healthcare for all citizens is expressly unconstitutional. The popular media like to frame Santorum as a religious fanatic. Religion helps shape a person’s morality and character. Therefore, by default, government leaders bring those values to their decisions and I, for one, would welcome a leader who has fundamental American values as described by the founders. If you don’t agree with those values – don’t vote for that person.
AlleyCat February 28, 2012 at 08:30 PM
"Render unto Caesar…" is the beginning of a phrase attributed to Jesus in the synoptic gospels, which reads in full, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21). We don't need the Constitution to call for a separation of Church and State because the Bible did it very nicely for us. The leader of this nation represents everyone, not just Christians. I am Catholic and I am fed up with the Republican's party's pandering to the far right. Our nation is in the midst of a huge recession. Santorum must not have a solution to these real problems because he feels the need to tell me what to do in my bedroom instead. If what he and the far right want are a theocracy, they can get themselves a one-way ticket to the Middle East.
HeavenAbuv February 28, 2012 at 08:49 PM
That's really interesting that you think that we don't need the Constitution to separate church and state considering that it does already.
sebastian dangerfield February 28, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Interesting D. fuchsen. You explain away why people who dont believe what you believe as fanantics. You reduce the concept of 'concern for ordinary citizens struggling is class warfare. Is that what you really believe? Concern is termed class warfare? Or is it more accurately, demonizing the successful as being demonstrative of class warfare. Where, candidates such as romney, are made to feel awkward, or embarrassed by financial success. Where does the concern you speak of come in to play? Sorry, but this is diversionary dogma , intended to ridicule the arguments of the right into little more than selfish acts. All awesome stuff, but the bottom line is you decide that people who disagree with your ideologies are 'fanantics." Really, D? What makes you so sure that your way is correct? Labeling and forming conclusions is unacceptable, unless your ideas coincide with Mr. Fuchsen. Ironic, I think.
sebastian dangerfield February 28, 2012 at 09:06 PM
The problem with the democrats reaction to invoking their outrage with the reiligious right , is that they think they can argue on principle. The problem with this concept, is actually where does their principle begin and end? Im thinking if Barack Obama suddenly started speaking like Rick Santorum , democrats would suddenly understand that morality and religious belief is not something to fear or oppose. Just 3.5 short years ago, we had major points in the Democrat/Obama platform that were incredibly important to rectify. 1) Guantanamo Bay-- an embarrassment and an affront to the Constitution and the concept of habeus corpus. We were, then (2008) no better than the terrorists in terms of compromising human rights. 2) Eavesdropping and executive overreach. Placing eavesdropping devices that intelligence experts felt were warranted to fight the war on terrorism, were again labeled by liberal democrats as an enormous injustice and stomping on our constituional rights. 3) The idea of a Bush led (and congressionally approved iraq war) was attacked as being not collaborative enough. we needed consensus to wage in military hositilies. So, guantanamo bay remains not only open, but with added rights of detainment. the United Nations not long ago, condemned the US for gitmo --where is our liberal requirement for consensus and for human rights? Obama killed an american citizen overseas? We need a warrant for eavesdropping but not for killing? Principles?
sebastian dangerfield February 28, 2012 at 09:11 PM
contd So now we engage in miltary action without congressional approval. Defy the UN with respect to gitmo. No longer feel the need for trial in the US -we can now just murder them (but not torture-but that seems to have also not be as objectionable.) Im all for people who think they can argue about where religion should and shouldnt come into play.....however, my observation these days is -that its not what is right and wrong--its if your Party leader is doing it or not. So, while there is obviously little humility with respect to changing opinions (although romney is wrong for flip flopping --thats what dems tell me as they endorse obama who flips flops on gay marraige, gitmo, war, israel, arabs, you name it--) I suggest you might want to wait until you better understand obama's latest position on religion , before making such bold statements. Most likely you will need to change your view soon.
HeavenAbuv February 28, 2012 at 09:12 PM
When you attack another side for being too ridiculous and are completely ridiculous yourself, it's hard to figure out what you actually want/believe. Is this satire? What is "Gahd"? Can you not spell? Who is protesting on behalf of the public and who has called them cultural marxists? If you think that simple concern for ordinary citizens is being labeled class-warfare, you must be schizophrenic; presumably, you're referring to OWS in which case the "concern" is not the issue but rather the aggressive tactics and vitriol spread regarding the "1%". Surely you know the difference between being concerned about ordinary citizens and asking for the necks of millionaires. Even if you think the latter is reasonable, it's simply intellectually dishonest to try to pigeonhole your opponents in such a manner.
AlleyCat February 28, 2012 at 09:14 PM
To HeavenAbuv, I absolutely believe the Constitution calls for it. My quote from the Bible was meant as a reply to Concerned Mom who seemed to think it was not in the Constitution. Separation of Church and State and the freedom of and from religion are what make this nation great. I am beginning to fear the move to the far right will take this away from us.
HeavenAbuv February 28, 2012 at 09:15 PM
This is sort of a strawman. The issue is whether or not it's OK for Santorum to bring religion into politics to the degree that he has. I think it's scary. Who cares what Obama failed to do?
HeavenAbuv February 28, 2012 at 09:18 PM
Oh ok. Yea, it's pretty clearly in the constitution though so I'm thinking that "concerned mom" is just some dude with a crazy agenda.
sebastian dangerfield February 29, 2012 at 05:32 AM
it is defintely a straw man. but the point is, that the fears about encroaching on the constitution with respect to separation of church and state--were the same fears by the same people with respect to executive overreach/ habeus corpus and for example obtaining a warrant before engaging in search. i read the same outrage and concern from the same people. today they say that invoking relgion is unconstitutional. yesterday it was habeus corpus. im just sick and tired of all the sermonizers who change their belief system with who is in office. is this what they really think? Or is it just more of the same : if repuplicans do it then democrats say its shameful. if democrats do it--then republicans say its hypocritical. im just pointing out that the people on these blogs are sheep. and obama is their shepard. (just like bush was --and his expansionary government was accepted by the right because--well he is republican. ) when obama proposed shrinking govt last month--the republicans immediately resisted. I dont get people anymore. but i have little doubt that santorum is simply understanding that obama is now vulnerable on the religion issue, and the guy is tryng to paint him as waging a war on religion. he isnt. he is trying to employ a social agenda that involves more health coverage.
Swami February 29, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Mr Sanctimonous last night referred to the Men and Women who signed the Declaration of Independence. WOMEN, Really? More home schooling needed.
sebastian dangerfield February 29, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Sully, hahahaha good one sully. i guess that is what its about....not that I read what you claim he said--but that you got him. If he said it-then that is the first mistake ever made by a politician! And you caught it man!! Awesome.
Swami February 29, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Get over it honey, no worse that Michelle Bachmann thinking the battles of Lexington and Concord were fought in New Hampshire. Take your meds and go back to bed.
Alex Tytler February 29, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Odumdum thought there were 56 states.
Amo Probus February 29, 2012 at 07:49 PM
The perverse need to exercise control over others through destructive monarchies, socialism, Nazism, capitalism or other ‘isms’ is an insidious human affliction. History has clearly demonstrated mankind is incapable of granting liberty-freedom to their fellow men. The Founders saw this and clearly stated “Liberty-Freedom is a God given right.” To excise God from governance and ‘isms’ betrays Constitutional ideals and inevitably causes invidious resentments and the eventual return to destructive ‘isms.’
Shredder March 01, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Nope, that doesn't make any sense Amo
Reason March 01, 2012 at 02:08 AM
Treaty of Tripoli-1796, Written by John Adams Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

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