First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Even bringing up a President’s “faith,” or a presidential candidate’s “faith,” in the context of a national election campaign — much LESS attacking it, or mischaracterizing it, or lying about it — is outrageous. I know it’s become totally normal and routine for political candidates and elected officials to parade their religious beliefs, and I know it’s impossible — not next to impossible: impossible — for any woman or man to get elected to any public office higher than town council without publicly certifying, at minimum, belief in God. But that does not make it appropriate, or right, to impose religious tests for public office when the U.S. Constitution explicitly forbids that. However, it’s only in the past decade or so that we’ve started to see politicians and media pundits openly advocating that law and public policy be based on explicit religious dogma.
So that’s some context for Rick Santorum’s attack yesterday on Barack Obama’s religious beliefs, stating that Obama’s “agenda” is “not based on the Bible“:
Obama’s agenda is “not about you. It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your jobs. It’s about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology,” Santorum told supporters of the conservative Tea Party movement at a Columbus hotel.
Later, Santorum defended his comments to reporters this way:
“He is imposing his values on the Christian church. He can categorize those values anyway he wants. I’m not going to.”
Of course, the reverse is true — Santorum is imposing his (Catholic) religious beliefs on the entire public in a presidential campaign where religious tests, appeals to specific religious dogma, and attacks on opponents’ religious beliefs or lack thereof, have no place. In doing so, Santorum — and every present or former Republican candidate for POTUS in 2012, except Ron Paul — are turning their backs on two centuries of commitment to keeping religion and government in separate spheres:
Contrast Santorum … with a previous Catholic candidate for president, John F. Kennedy:
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish, where no public official either requests or accept 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.
John Kennedy and Barack Obama are both following in the tradition of the Founding Fathers who understood the importance of creating a secular republic with separation of church and state. Nobody should be able to use the powers of government to impose their religious views upon others.
Needless to say, Santorum’s “phony theology” comments attracted a lot of press attention — to which he responded with a, dare I say it, phony explanation that in fact just allowed him to double down:
Rick Santorum said Sunday that he “wasn’t suggesting the president was not a Christian” when he said on the campaign trail that President Obama’s agenda was based on “some phony theology. Not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology.”
Rather, Santorum said, he believed that the president held the view of “radical environmentalists” who wanted to shape policy around “things that frankly are just not scientifically proven” – like global warming.
“When you have a world view that elevates the earth above man and says we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the earth by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, like for example the politicization of the whole global warming debate – this is all an attempt to centralize power [and] give more power to the government,” Santorum said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “This is not questioning the president’s beliefs in Christianity, I’m talking about the belief that man should be in charge of the earth.”
As opposed to the presidential power Santorum would claim to impose his Catholic orthodoxy on the entire country. Here’s another example of that from today’s Face the Nation:
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum on Sunday suggested that “Obamacare” required free prenatal testing coverage because President Barack Obama wanted to see more disabled babies aborted.
The former Pennsylvania senators had told supporters on Saturday that the Affordable Care Act just created the requirement “because free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and therefore less care that has to be done because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society.”
“You sound like you’re saying the purpose of prenatal care is to cause to have people to have abortions, to get more abortions in this country,” CBS host Bob Schieffer told Santorum on Sunday. “I think any number of people would say that’s not the purpose at all.”
“That’s simply not true,” Santorum replied. “The bottom line is that a lot of prenatal tests are done to identify deformities in utero, and the customary procedure is to encourage abortions.”
“And in fact, prenatal testing, particularly amniocentesis — I’m not talking about general prenatal care,” he added. “We’re talking about specifically prenatal testing, and specifically amniocentesis, which is a procedure that actually creates a risk of having a miscarriage when you have it, and is done for the purposes of identifying maladies in the womb. And which in many cases — in fact, most cases physicians recommend — particularly if there’s a problem — recommend abortion.”
Santorum claims that the fact he and his wife have a child with trisomy 18 (similar to Down’s Syndrome, but more severe) means that he “knows what” he’s “talking about.” Well, I call bullshit on that one: I, too, had a child with a genetic disorder — a fatal one called Tay-Sachs — and I chose to have prenatal testing with subsequent pregnancies because I already knew I did not want to bring another child into the world with the same condition. No doctor “encouraged” me to have an abortion, and in fact I went on to have a healthy pregnancy with no miscarriage and that child is now 22 years old and working at the New York Times. It’s true that many if not most women who choose amniocentesis have abortions if the test reveals Down’s syndrome or some other severe abnormality, but Santorum’s emphasis on the doctor as the one who initiates the prenatal testing and then “encourages” the woman to abort if the fetus is abnormal or disabled is very dishonest. Women are not forced to be prenatally tested or to have abortions they don’t want. The idea that a woman is not capable of saying no to a doctor’s suggestion that she have an abortion if she does not want to is deeply insulting to women. We’re not children. So that’s bullshit.
And Santorum’s assertion that amniocentesis increases a woman’s risk of miscarriage is just flat-out false.
Having said this, the larger point is the illegitimacy of Santorum’s underlying premise — that prenatal testing is health care; that contraception is health care; that abortion is health care, and that neither the government nor private employers nor insurance companies should have the right to deny access to any health care service or procedure to any individual because it offends someone else’s moral sensibilities.