A few days ago presidential hopeful Rick Santorum took a shot at John F. Kennedy while addressing a group of Catholics in Massachusetts.
In remarks to about 50 members of the group Catholic Citizenship -- which encourages parishioners to speak out on issues of public policy --- Santorum decried what he called the growing secularization of American public life.
He traced the problem to Kennedy's 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, in which Kennedy – then a candidate for president - sought to allay concerns about his Catholicism by declaring, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute."
Santorum, who is Catholic, said he was "frankly appalled" by Kennedy's remark.
"That was a radical statement," Santorum said, and it did "great damage."
"We're seeing how Catholic politicians, following the first Catholic president, have followed his lead, and have divorced faith not just from the public square, but from their own decision-making process," Santorum said.
Kennedy caused the growing secularization of America? Let's have a look at what Kennedy said many years ago.
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.
Pretty radical stuff, especially the part where parishioners are being told how to vote. The reason for Kennedy's remarks before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association was to allay fears that he would take orders from the Pope. Catholics were considered papists by many and Kennedy wanted to allay their fears that he would take orders from a religious leader. My how times have changed since 1960.
Kennedy's speech include this rather prescient paragraph.
For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew--or a Quaker--or a Unitarian--or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim--but tomorrow it may be you--until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.
That has a familiar ring these days. You'll notice that Kennedy refers to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom, which, by the way, Virginia enacted into state law in 1786. From the law:
Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
Santorum also referenced Jefferson.
"Jefferson is spinning in his grave," he added.
Perhaps, Mr Santorum, but not for the reason you think.