New York, NY, February 27, 2012 … Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum's call for more religion in public life and his full-throated rejection of John F. Kennedy's landmark 1960 speech calling for the separation of religion and politics shows "a profound misunderstanding of the First Amendment," according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which today labeled the candidate's statements "deeply disturbing."
"Senator Santorum's remarks on the need for more religion in politics are deeply disturbing and show a profound misunderstanding of the First Amendment," said Robert G. Sugarman, ADL National Chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "John F. Kennedy was right. In a religiously diverse and pluralistic democracy, people of one faith should not seek to use the power of the government to impose their views on people of other faiths or of no faith. This message is as important today as it was when candidate Kennedy faced anti-Catholic bigotry as he sought the presidency in 1960."
Speaking on ABC's This Week, Mr. Santorum stated that he was made sick by reading the Kennedy speech: "What kind of country do we live in that says only people of nonfaith can come into the public square and make their case?," he said. "That makes me throw up."
In a letter to Mr. Santorum, ADL noted that then-presidential candidate Kennedy, in his 1960 speech, was not trying to impose secular values on people of faith, but in fact was making the point that the First Amendment has played a critical role in ensuring the religious freedom of all Americans.
The League has long maintained that candidates should feel comfortable explaining their religious convictions to voters, but that there is a point at which an emphasis on religion in a political campaign becomes inappropriate and even unsettling.
"The genius of the Founding Fathers was to find a way, with the establishment clause and the free exercise clause, to protect the new nation from the kind of religious persecution that had resulted from official state religions and religious wars in Europe," wrote Messrs. Sugarman and Foxman. "They were not hostile to religion; many of them were deeply religious. Their goal was to protect individual religious liberty – including the liberty of those in the religious minority."
ADL has previously called on Mr. Santorum to refrain from overt expressions of religious preferences and beliefs on the campaign trail. In January, after Mr. Santorum compared himself to a "Jesus candidate," the League said in a statement that "religious appeals to voters are simply unacceptable and un-American."
The League recently joined with a diverse coalition of major national religious organizations in issuing an Interfaith Statement of Principles, calling on the presidential candidates and all candidates for public office this election year to help ensure decency, honesty and fair play in elections by conducting campaigns that honor our nation's traditions of religious liberty and avoid sowing religious discord.
As a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, ADL takes no position on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for office.