Some are abuzz about his interview this past weekend with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week," in which Santorum stated that he does not believe separation of church and state is absolute. He stated that the First Amendment's free exercise clause guarantees that the church and its members have as much right to try to influence policy as anyone else. And he's absolutely correct.
Not only are the words "separation of church and state" not contained in the Constitution but this phrase from Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists does not mean what many people say it does.
The First Amendment's establishment clause says that Congress shall not establish a national church, because the Framers didn't want the government telling us whom or how to worship. Their overarching concern, then, was protecting religious liberty. The free exercise clause also strengthens the religious freedom guarantee.
The point is that both clauses are dedicated to religious liberty, and neither purports to ban religious expression from the public square or from the mouths of public officials.
No matter how expansively one reads the First Amendment's establishment clause, no one, including Jefferson, would have made the ludicrous argument that presidents (or other public officials) must leave their worldview at the door of the White House and govern apart from it, as if that would be possible. Advocating policy positions based on one's worldview is light-years away from establishing -- or even supporting -- a national religion.
Christian conservatives are not the ones demonstrating intolerance and threatening the freedoms of religion and religious expression. They would never consider being so presumptuous and tyrannical as to try to silence those who disagree with them, ban them from the public square, or advance the spurious argument that they are not entitled to advocate policies based on their worldview.
Ironically, it is probably the secular left that is most responsible for the dramatic rise and persistent influence of the Christian political right in politics, with their gross judicial activism in abortion jurisprudence and their judicial tyranny coercing states to accept same-sex marriage against the will of the people. They are the ones who demonize as "homophobes" and "bigots" those seeking to preserve traditional marriage. Christian conservatives don't try to shut them up, but many are now trying to shut us up -- through the specious application of the First Amendment, no less.
The last people anyone needs to fear on religious liberty are Christian conservatives, who are its strongest guardians. Above all others, they will fight to preserve everyone's right to express and practice his religion or non-religion as he pleases.
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