Santorum’s Comments on Religion Hurting GOP

MSNBC is running a graphic on Morning Joe with a picture of GOP candidate Rick Santorum and a headline “Foot in Mouth Disease.”

And unfortunately for the Republicans, it’s one of the few things about the GOP that MSNBC has actually gotten right.

Santorum is a social ultra-con, the kind of close-minded religious zealot the Republican party can’t afford.

Conservatism is about freedom, both the freedom from an oppressive state and the freedom to live happily in any way we choose so long as it doesn’t infringe on the basic freedoms of others.

Santorum’s version of conservatism is about neither.

His latest inflammatory, and frankly ignorant, speech about the separation of church and state is just another piece of fuel to throw on the burning fire of liberal critique of Republicanism – which is importantly different from conservatism, though very often erroneously used interchangeably.

Speaking to the Detroit Chamber of Commerce, Santorum said JFK’s famous 1960 speech on the separation of church and state made him “almost throw up.”

No, if you want to throw up, do a Google image search for “Santorum.”

“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” Santorum told ABC News.

“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.”

As I’ve said before, there is no specific mention of the separation of church and state in the constitution. And yes, surely the puritans who founded the first settlements in America would have loved to weave their theology into the fabric of their government. So, to some degree, Santorum is right in saying there is no absolute or even specific laws precluding the church from influencing policy.

America gained independence more than 200 years ago and the first settlement came more than 150 years before that.

Even the difference between the lifestyles in Jamestown in 1607 and that of Philadelphia in 1776 were starkly different, and the people who came to the New World likely would never have agreed to the rules put in place by our framers.

More to the point, those who constantly invoke the framers when defending the influence religion should have in our political system do so at their own peril, considering the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, was an atheist.

It’s hypocritical for Rick Santorum to, on the one hand, bash President Obama for his contraceptive mandate as an affront to religious freedom, and on the other, claim that his Catholic Church should have more influence in policy.

Religious freedom means religious freedom for every religion.  By choosing one church’s dogma to become the standard-bearer for policy, one inherently excludes every other religion.

Even if those other religions share similar moral teachings, the very principal is counterproductive to the spirit of maintaining the freedom and autonomy of religious influences on the state.

Politicians are people. Religion can serve as a moral compass, a baseline from where politicians draw their support for topics with certain moral implications.

Santorum has said the right things about the government’s role in legislating our religious freedom, that the government shouldn’t be involved.

Then, in the same breath, he’s saying the government should use church teachings to legislate, an entirely contradictory position to his “rights-based” argument against Obama’s contraceptive mandate.

It’s this kind of ignorance and hypocrisy which could sink the Republicans in 2012 because the GOP has to win the arguments on important issues in the minds of the voters.

If a candidate can’t generate a coherent position on those important issues, the Republicans have no chance of winning those arguments.

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