Religious Freedom and the Executive

A major problem with Santorum’s view of religion in public life is that he fails to differentiate between the rights of individual citizens and the responsibilities of elected officials. Consider this passage from his RealClearReligion op-ed:

In contrast, a major political offshoot of Kennedy’s articulated philosophy, sometimes referred to as the “privatization of faith,” was best illustrated by Mario Cuomo’s speech at Notre Dame in September 1984. There he espoused his nuanced position on abortion: that, as a result of his religious convictions he was personally opposed to abortion. But he then applies Kennedy’s thesis and refrains from imposing his values upon others whose views, because the truth is indiscernible, are equally valid.

In 1960, Kennedy was seeking the presidency, the highest executive office in the United States. Cuomo, in 1984, was the highest executive officer of the state of New York. Their claims about the ‘privatization of faith’ were not general, but specific to those roles. The duty of presidents and governors is to execute the laws of the land, made by democratically elected representatives of the people. In that role, imposing their individual religious beliefs would be both an anti-democratic imposition and an overreaching of their authority into the legislative realm.

Executives bear the burden of ‘privatizing’ their religious views not “because the truth is indiscernible” or all “views … are equally valid” but because in a democracy the views of the people are considered a more valid foundation for legislation than the personal convictions of a single leader. That Santorum does not understand this distinction is one more reason he would make a poor president.

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