Senator Rick Santorum: Charge to Revive the Role of Faith in the Public Square
Kennedy continued: "I believe in an America ... where no Catholic prelate would tell the President -- should he be Catholic -- how to act... where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials."
Of course no religious body should "impose its will" on the public or public officials, but that was not the issue then or now. The issue is one that every diverse civilization like America has to deal with -- how do we best live with our differences. Our founders' vision, unlike the French, was to give every belief and every believer and non-believer a place at the table in the public square. Madison referred to this "equal and complete liberty" as the "true remedy." Admittedly our country hadn't always lived up to that ideal -- in particular with respect to Jews and Catholics, thus the legitimate reason for Kennedy's speech. But what JFK advocated sounded more like Ataturk than Madison -- that religious ideas and actors were not welcome in public policy debates.
Ultimately Kennedy's attempt to reassure Protestants that the Catholic Church would not control the government and suborn its independence advanced a philosophy of strict separation that would create a purely secular public square cleansed of all religious wisdom and the voice of religious people of all faiths. He laid the foundation for attacks on religious freedom and freedom of speech by the secular left and its political arms like the ACLU and the People for the American Way. This has and will continue to create dissension and division in this country as people of faith increasingly feel like second-class citizens.
Kennedy took words written to protect religion from the government and used them to protect the government from religion. It worked -- in the years following this speech the concept of an absolute "separation of church and state" gained wider and wider acceptance due to its inculcation in the academy. When I was in the senate I used to question student groups by asking them which phrase was in the constitution "separation of church and state" or "the free exercise of religion"? Separation always won usually by a wide margin.
Another consequence is the debasement of our First Amendment right of religious freedom. Of all the great and necessary freedoms listed in the First Amendment, freedom to exercise religion (not just to believe, but to live out that belief) is the most important; before freedom of speech, before freedom of the press, before freedom of assembly, before freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances, before all others. This freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, is the trunk from which all other branches of freedom on our great tree of liberty get their life. Cut down the trunk and the tree of liberty will die and in its place will be only the barren earth of tyranny.
This first freedom has now been placed on the lowest rung of interests to be considered when weighing rights against one another. The fruits of this misguided idea are increasingly evident. For example:
- The ACLU is currently pushing HHS to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions under the emergency care mandate of Obamacare.
- A University of Illinois professor hired to teach classes on Catholic doctrine was fired because he taught (well...) Catholic doctrine.
- Religious organizations are increasingly excluded from Public Universities unless they deny their deeply held religious beliefs. This year, the Supreme Court affirmed that The Christian Legal Society can be barred from the Hastings College of Law because they insist on holding their leaders accountable to Christian standards of sexual ethics.
- In 2006, Catholic Charities of Boston was forced to abandon adoptions due to a state law requiring that they assist homosexuals in adopting children.
Kennedy's error also unleashed a new form of censorship that would make vows to the Almighty a constitutional offense, rob clergy of their First Amendment rights and deprive our leaders and our country of their inspired wisdom and guidance.
When I served in the US Senate I often looked to the moral wisdom found in the writings of such religious figures as Augustine, Theresa of Avila, Thomas Aquinas, and Thomas More as well as from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel.
Mother Teresa's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, spoken with a humility that made her quiet voice a loud alarm in our hearts, moved me to take a leading role in an issue that pulled at the moral fabric of our country: partial birth abortion. And it was Pope John Paul II and other Christian leaders' call for the ...
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
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