It must seem almost quaint now, that 50 years ago then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy Jr. delivered a major speech seeking to allay voter concerns that his Catholic faith would somehow dictate or influence his actions as president of the United States.
Kennedy, who became the nation's first president of Catholic faith when he was inaugurated in January 1961, addressed a group of Protestant ministers two months before the November election and spoke these words:
"So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again not what kind of church I believe in - for that should be important only to me - but what kind of America I believe in."
"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."
How far we've regressed in half a century.
Today, in the midst of our current presidential campaign, we have candidates going out of their way to bless the right of specific religions to dictate, indeed impose, their specific beliefs unto others, in effect agreeing to allow the removal of rights and personal liberties for some by permitting the imposition of one church's beliefs upon entire segments of the nation.
We now have a candidate, GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum, who has stated, on the record, that states should have the right to make birth control, oral contraceptives specifically, illegal in the state. If he were president, Santorum said, he would have no issue with such a state ban because, as a Catholic, he believes birth control is morally wrong. Making contraception illegal would be perfectly legal in a Santorum presidency.
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Santorum further states, on the record, that he believes health insurance should not cover birth control for women under any circumstances. He would, therefore, as a Catholic, allow banning insurance coverage for contraception in a Santorum administration. (Left unsaid is whether vasectomies for men should be an insured medical procedure.)
Santorum has chosen a path directly opposite that of candidate and later President Kennedy. He's declaring that his religion, his church, will directly influence his actions as president, even if such actions trample the rights and liberties of more than half the citizenry of the nation.
I don't know what constitution Santorum believes in, but it can't be the U.S. Constitution, because the nation's constitution does not permit the right of some to abridge fundamental rights of others, even if those others are women, somehow relegated to a category of lesser rights dictated by a set of religious beliefs they don't themselves hold.
As the GOP presidential field begins to allege, in unison, that our current president has "declared war on religion," they apparently are quite comfortable with the "war on women" they now act in collusion with by their increasingly strident statements of denying women, by government fiat, the right to exercise their own beliefs and personal liberties.
These candidates must read history books with a weird set of glasses that somehow deletes that part of our nation's history that led settlers to cross an ocean partly to choose religious freedom, escaping the dictates of their homeland's state-sponsored religion. It seems they're ready to create a new version of state-sponsored religion on our shores, by our own government.
Kennedy correctly expressed a fundamental truth of our constitution's founding when he said: "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."
The dissonance of the feverish proclamations by the remaining crop of GOP candidates are alarming and downright un-American.
Lompoc resident Carol Benham is a former reporter and news editor for the Lompoc Record and the Santa Maria Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.