Street Corner Soapbox: Conformity's Holy Warrior

Category:  Street Corner Soapbox
Thursday, March 1st, 2012 at 9:00 AM
Street Corner Soapbox: Conformity's Holy Warrior by Jay Stevens
aconaway

How is it that Rick Santorum is still a viable candidate in the GOP primary for president?

Seriously, how is it possible? Not only did he call President Barack Obama a "snob" for wanting Americans to be able to go to college -- and warned that "liberal college professors" were going to "indoctrinate" our nation's children -- he's also attacked public schooling, labeling it "anachronistic" while, ironically, lobbying for a preindustrial model of education He also not only questioned women's fitness for the military because of their "emotions," he also questioned whether women should work outside the home at all. It's not just on education and women's issues that Santorum is dangerously outside the mainstream on the issues, he's also promised to use the power of the presidency to ban contraceptives, and once told the mother of a cancer-struck child that sick people are responsible for their illnesses and should pay higher insurance rates.

But the worst, most radical, most game-changing belief Santorum holds is his views on the separation of church and state. Last year, the former Pennsylvania Senator claimed that reading John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech on religion made him want to throw up. Why? Because, Santorum claims, Kennedy said, "people of faith have no place 'in the public square.'" It's either an egregious misreading -- Kennedy actually said he "believes in an America...where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him" -- or it's a deliberate misleading about exactly which passages of the speech Santorum objects to. Like when Kennedy said his America is where "no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from any...ecclesiastical source," or where "no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference."

Santorum, this week: "I'm for separation of church and state. The state has no business telling the church what to do."

Of course, it's what's left unsaid -- that church has the right to tell the government what to do -- that's dangerous.

"In the United States the Founding Fathers believed...that religious truth would be best served by keeping the state out of the business of its propagation," wrote Simon Schama in “The American Future,” “that the power of religious engagement would not just survive freedom of conscience but be its noblest consequence.” In other words, separation of church and state -- and especially the state's avoidance of propagating religion -- is the key to the United States' incredible success in the peaceful diversity and proliferation of religion.

Only if religion is outside the sphere of government and public policy can religion flourish in so many ways, and without conflict.

Imagine, if you will, prayer were allowed in public school. That idea immediately begs the question, which prayer? Even if a school could somehow agree on a Christian prayer -- the idea of schoolchildren prostrate on prayer rugs pointed to the east and chanting allahu akbar too much for most of our American religious ideologues -- then, which Christian prayer? There are dozens of denominations. Would Catholic parents be comfortable with a Pentacostal preacher speaking in tongues in front of their children? How would Pentacostal parents feel about their children repeatedly hearing the Catholic liturgy? The problem increases exponentially when you -- like Santorum -- begin to talk about codifying religious belief into law. Whose beliefs predominate? Santorum's? And should the other faiths be expected to obey?

"It was a daring bet: that faith and freedom were mutually nourishing," wrote Schama. "But it paid off and it has made America uniquely qualified to fight the only battle that matters...the war of toleration against conformity; the war of a faith that commands obedience against a faith that promises liberty."

Santorum and his conservative religious allies do not seek a faith that promises liberty. And that threatens, not only civil government, but free religious practice in American.

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