Rick Santorum said something today at a campaign stop in Livonia, MI that struck me as simple but very profound.
Santorum: “I’m for separation of church and state. The state has no business telling church what to do.”
— Jon Ward (@jonward11) February 27, 2012
What’s notable about that, you ask? It gets the relationship between government and church exactly right. The First Amendment does not exist to make sure that a particular church does not take over government but to protect all churches from undue government interference. The Founders were far less afraid of today’s Progressive Bogeyman, the Fundamentalist Theocracy, than they were of a situation in which the government backed one church and used its coercive might to squash other churches. They knew very well how that worked.
One of the great divides between progressives and conservatives is how they view the relationship between church and government. Progressives believe that the supposed Wall of Separation exists to prevent the government from becoming overrun by faith and morality and other icky bits of religious belief. They believe if that wall, erected by the Supreme Court in 1947, wasn’t there then the United States would slide into a theocracy, possibly run by the American Taliban.
Conservatives believe differently. We know that if everyone is allowed — and even encouraged — to pursue their own religious believes with as much vigor as they desire, there is no chance that any one religion will amass enough power to run our government. It is only when government intrudes upon the church instead of protecting the free expression of religion that the balance changes and favored religions gain advantage over those that do not have the regard of powerful government officials. That is how you get a national religion or, as we’ve seen in the United States lately, a national push to drive religion from the public square.
And, by the by, we conservatives also know it’s perfectly acceptable for a man to speak at a religious university about his religious beliefs, even if four years later he decides to run for President. We can do that without falling into a hysterical tantrum because we know that the First Amendment both allows it and constrains our government from letting that man become Theocrat-in-Chief. It’d be nice to have a President in office who knows the Constitution well enough to know how the separation of church and state should work. Granted, he’s no scholar or anything, but I think we can live with that.