Via Huffington Post, Rick Santorum has written an essay detailing his interpretation of the First Amendment, in which he further explains his problem with JFK’s 1960 speech in which he said “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.”

Santorum’s objection:

While the phrase “separation of church and state” doesn’t appear in the Constitution, the concept of protecting religion from the government does.

The first part of the First Amendment prohibits the federal government from establishing a state church, such as existed in England and in some of the states in 1791, and from discriminating for or against particular faiths. The founders were determined to ensure that the new national government had no jurisdiction over matters of religion, in large part to insure that each American would be free to pursue the religion of their choice without state interference. Far from reflecting hostility toward religion, our founders, rooted in their own faith convictions, knew that faith was not just an essential element, but the essence of civilization and the inspiration of culture.

Santorum says that “Kennedy took words written to protect religion from the government and used them to protect the government from religion.”

For background, here’s the First Amendment in its entirety:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

At present, we are concerned with the religion bit. “respecting an establishment of religion”. According to no less an authority than something quoted on Wikipedia this:  “‘prohibits the federal and state governments from establishing an official religion, or from favoring or disfavoring one view of religion over another.'”

Whoa! “Favoring or disfavoring one view over another” is a big step from just not establishing an official religion. And you can’t tell me that Christianity doesn’t get preferential treatment over Zoroastrianism in this country. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of a Zoroastrian congressman, and yet there are apparently 11,000 practicing Zoroastrians in the United States. I wonder if they feel Congress grants them equal favor?

Then we come to the bit that says Congress shall not prohibit “the free exercise thereof”. Okay, then. I guess if somebody wants to form an Esoteric Order of Dagon and sacrifice people to the Deep Ones in exchange for jewelry, the Congress is powerless.

Obviously, this isn’t the case. Congress can prohibit the free exercise of religions if they determine they’re a threat to the population at large. And that could really be anything, especially since most religions seem to hold that all the other religions are a threat.

So, Santorum opposes abortion and contraception, apparently because his religious beliefs tell him to. He doesn’t want the government to fund these things. He wants Roe v. Wade overturned, because his religion tells him so. Other people feel just the opposite way on these issues. But Santorum’s religion tells him these people are wrong.

Let’s get something clear: no amount of parsing or interpreting the First Amendment will ever solve this fundamental disagreement. If there were an amendment that said:

The interpretation of meteorological conditions being necessary to the enjoyment of a walk in the park, the right of the people to disagree about the weather shall not be infringed

…it would not be of any help to us if I say it is a going to rain and you say it is going to be sunny. All it says is that we’re allowed to disagree. But eventually, we’re going to have to answer the question anyway.

Santorum’s “vibrant marketplace of religions”(?) has the same problem. Yes, we’re all allowed to have different religion, and the government isn’t allowed to ban them (except under extreme circumstances) but we still have the massive problem of determining which policies are good and which aren’t. Suppose some religion advocated something stupid, such as selling the strategic oil reserves to build a massive golden calf. At some point, the government have to say: “Your religion’s ideas are lousy. We will not listen to you.”

Santorum seems to be just sort of rambling off on a tangent in this essay, trying to avoid getting into a discussion over his actual beliefs.

P.S. Once again, I’m not a lawyer or a constitutional scholar. If anyone can explain the flaws in my reasoning, I’d love to hear them.