By Editorial Board, Monday, February 27, 12:33 PM
IF RICK SANTORUM were right about what’s going on in America, his angry lectures and reproofs would be comprehensible.
“Rick understands that our freedom to practice our faith is not just under attack through the redefinition of marriage, but in nearly every facet of the popular culture,” his campaign Web site explains. Mr. Santorum “almost threw up” when he read President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech on the separation of church and state because, Mr. Santorum told ABC’s “This Week,” Kennedy was arguing that “faith is not allowed in the public square.” He sees in the country, as he told Fox News, “a war on people of faith — particularly the Catholic faith.”
But Mr. Kennedy wasn’t telling people of faith to stay out of public life. He was restating the constitutional principle that has helped make America a great and resilient country: No faith should be able to dictate government policy, and government shouldn’t dictate theology to any faith. From Martin Luther King Jr. to Jerry Falwell, public figures have drawn upon their religious beliefs while in the “public square,” and no one has ever kept them from doing so. Churches are thriving from coast to coast: Where is the freedom to practice religion under attack?
The “war” on Catholics that Mr. Santorum imagines stems most recently from President Obama’s proposal, since withdrawn, that Catholic hospitals and universities (though not churches) be required to include contraception in the health insurance plans they buy for their employees. We opposed Mr. Obama’s policy, arguing that the administration should give more leeway to religious-affiliated institutions, even ones that hire many non-Catholics and operate primarily in a secular sphere. But we also acknowledged the difficulty of balancing their religious liberty against the personal liberty of hundreds of thousands of female employees who might hold different religious views.
It’s that unending, challenging balancing process for which Mr. Santorum seems to have insufficient respect. He has said, for example, that contraception is “one of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about. . . . It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”
If all he wanted to do was talk, we would say, Have at it — no matter how misguided we think he is on birth control and many other matters. But does Mr. Santorum really understand the difference between talking about a policy and imposing his views?
When he so misreads Mr. Kennedy, when he perceives a war that does not exist, he shows a lack of appreciation for the First Amendment. When he accuses President Obama of harboring a “phony theology” — “Not a theology based on Bible. A different theology” — it seems he does not understand the line between policy and religion. Mr. Santorum later explained that he was not questioning Mr. Obama’s faith, only his environmental policy. But theology means “the study of God and of the relations between God, humankind and the universe.”
That Mr. Santorum believes he has the standing to declaim on the rightness of Mr. Obama’s faith, and whether it is sufficiently Bible-based, is in itself disqualifying.