Every time Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum opens his mouth about religion, he makes me want to throw up. I bet millions of other Americans have the same reaction

John F. Kennedy, when running for president in 1960, made an oft-quoted speech to Southern Baptist ministers to clarify (at the same time he was negating anti-Catholic hate speech) that he would not impose his religious views and that he would not take orders from the Vatican.

Santorum, like Kennedy a Catholic, is clearly offended that JFK did not gag us with communion wafers, install confessional booths in every public building, or nationalize rosary bead manufacturers.

“To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up.  What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?” Santorum said on a recent TV interview.

To say that people of faith are not allowed a role in public life is nothing less than a lie.

Forty-three different men have taken the presidential oath of office in the United States. Every one of them put his hand on the Bible. Many openly expressed religious faith. Numerous U.S. presidents have met with popes. Protestant evangelist Billy Graham prayed together with every president over a half century. The facts show Santorum’s words to be incorrect.

“…Now we’re going to turn around and say we’re going to impose our values from the government on people of faith,” Santorum said. That’s another lie.

Santorum does not understand the meaning of the world “impose.” Does the government coerce Catholic clergy to break their vow of chastity? Are Jews forced to eat pork? Are Baptists required to drink alcoholic beverages? Does a bureaucrat force Seventh Day Adventists to consume meat? Are Mormons allowed to do offensive things like baptize Anne Frank? Do Jehovah’s Witnesses have to salute the flag? The list goes on and on. Judges occasionally rule in favor of lifesaving medical care against the wishes of a Christian Scientist, but even with life-and-death situations, government intrusion over religious objections is rare.

“Kennedy for the first time articulated the vision saying, no, ‘faith is not allowed in the public square. I will keep it separate.’ Go on and read the speech ‘I will have nothing to do with faith.  I won’t consult with people of faith.’ It was an absolutist doctrine that was foreign at the time of 1960,” Santorum emphasized.

That’s full of so much mendacity that it’s a wonder anyone believes Santorum. Neither Kennedy nor any other U.S. president has ever banned faith in any form. Kennedy never said he would “have nothing to do with faith” and did not refuse to “consult with people of faith.” And Kennedy was not the first president to respect the wall between church and state.

Kennedy’s doctrine was “absolutist” only insofar as respecting the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

At the same time, Santorum fails to quote other parts of Kennedy’s 1960 speech: “I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish – 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 – and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”

Who, other than Santorum and a handful of theocratic zealots, disagrees with that?

At least one other president endorsed Kennedy’s speech by quoting our Founding Fathers. “The unique thing about America is a wall in our Constitution separating church and state. It guarantees there will never be a state religion in this land, but at the same time it makes sure that every single American is free to choose and practice his or her religious beliefs or to choose no religion at all,” President Ronald Reagan, the patriarch of modern conservatives, said in 1984.

When President Obama voices the same views as Reagan, he is excoriated by the religious right as being a tout for Satan. So I’m curious: did Santorum throw up when his hero Reagan made this speech?

John Wright is the author of “The Obama Haters: Behind the Right-Wing Campaign of Lies, Innuendo & Racism” and co-author of “Life Without Oil: Why We Must Shift to a New Energy Future.”

John Wright

John Wright