During the 1960 Presidential campaign, Democratic candidates John F. Kennedy—a Catholic—said in a famous talk to the Houston (Texas) Ministerium:
“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and 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.”
Does anyone object to this statement—really? Certainly, despite the desire of many in the Church for public support for parochial schools, no Catholic voices were raised in objection when John Kennedy made this claim that religion should not have a direct role in the political process. Now a prominent Catholic running for the American presidency does take exception? Why has there been a switch? Or has there—has Rick Santorum gone out on a limb—too far out on a limb—with his objection that the separation of Church is not “absolute?” Is it a legitimate claim that he only wants to preserve the rights of religion in the “public square” or has he set up a straw-man with this argument? Does the non-establishment clause of the First Amendment threaten believers with being pushed to the margins of the American political process? I don’t know. I have long thought that Mr. Santorum’s Catholicism was his own particular take on the Catholic faith; I now think his Americanism is his own particular take on our Constitutional heritage.