Bill Murchison
The "social issues" have popped up in the Republican presidential campaign, courtesy of Rick Santorum, causing Democrats to drool, left-wing pundits to twirl their broadswords in the air and various Republicans to turn green, fearful of alienating key voting blocs. The horror, the horror -- can't the party's candidates just keep their searchlight trained on the economy?

Probably not. The task of governing the United States of America seems not to accommodate that strategy any more. Current screeching about Santorum's introduction of religion into the campaign calculus reinforces that point.

Santorum -- a candidate exceeded only by Ron Paul when it comes to implausibility as a Republican presidential nominee -- is playing his long suit when he talks about religion and family and morality. There's not much else to distinguish him from the rest of the field. What appears, to many, as his old-fashioned views on religion (including contraception) call forth from many others a gratitude that warrants inspection.

"What kind of country do we live in," he inquired, rhetorically, on ABC the other day, "that says only people of nonfaith can come into the public square and make their case?"

Now that's a stretch -- nobody is saying only "people of nonfaith" have a license to speak up -- but the people to whom Santorum is talking know what he means: To wit, "people of faith" often find their concerns downplayed, depreciated, excluded or ignored, on the ground that church-state separation forbids undue emphasis on those concerns.

Which it doesn't. No such doctrine as church-over-here-and-government-over-there has ever existed among us. It's a made-up notion, providing cover to those who see religious expression, especially Christian, as a barrier to the fulfillment of policy ideals such as abortion-on-demand, same-sex marriage and secularization of public places (e.g., schools) formerly hospitable to religious expression of a sort.

Changing times brings their own rationales. If today we're for abortion, it's because we view the individual woman's right to "control her body" as trumping any appeal to life's sacred dimensions. Religion itself becomes offensive to the extent it upholds understandings no longer in favor. Liberal churches (on this showing) are OK: They let a person do as he or she wants to. Conservative churches, by refusing to give the zeitgeist free run of the place, show their bigotry and inhumanity. Why, they think unborn life deserves protection. Shut those people up! Show 'em who's in charge!

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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