In what appears to be nothing more than a coincidence, the top four stories in the "Most Popular" column on the Yahoo! News this morning form a fascinating quartet.
Santorum Says He Doesn't Believe In Separation Of Church And State
Gingrich Warns Of Role Of "Secular Left"
Penn Judge: Muslims Allowed To Attack People For Insulting Mohammed
Santorum: No Apology Needed For Quran Burning
In the first two, GOP candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich make statements that all of us -- not just the "secular left" of Newt's warning -- should be concerned about. Let's hear first from Gingrich, who bemoans the eroding of the American principles our Founding Fathers intended to establish:
"The forces of the secular left believe passionately and deeply, and with frankly a religious fervor, in their world view and they will regard what I am saying as a horrifying assault on what they think is the truth," Gingrich said. "Because their version of the truth is to have a totally neutral government that has no meaning."
Santorum went even further, stating that the separation of church and state should not be "absolute," and he pronounced himself sickened when he thinks of John F. Kennedy's assurance to a group of Baptist ministers in 1960 that he would not attempt to press his Catholic views upon the nation's policy.
JFK's removal of faith from the public square, Santorum said, "... makes me want to throw up."
The problem is, of course, that people like Gingrich and Santorum are never really talking about faith in its general sense. What they'd like is to have their own faith drive policy. It's why you have the Catholic bishops up in arms about having to include birth control in insurance coverage for their employees, and fundamentalists trying to get creationism and/or intelligent design implanted in high school biology curricula -- but rarely the reverse. The complaints about the inroads made by secularism never seem to focus on anything more than the particular religious beliefs of the person making the complaint.
This is what makes the third and fourth stories so interesting. In the third, a state judge in Pennsylvania, Mark Martin, threw out an assault case in which an atheist, Ernie Perce, was attacked by a devout Muslim, Talaag Elbayomy. Perce, it seems, was in a Halloween parade -- dressed up as "zombie Mohammed." Elbayomy, outraged, attacked Perce, and was arrested. And in an astonishingly bizarre interpretation of the law, Martin threw out the case, stating that the First Amendment does not give one license to "provoke others," and pronounced Perce a "doofus."
In the fourth story, we're back to Rick Santorum -- who is upset with President Obama for apologizing to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, and to the Afghan people, for the inadvertent burning of some copies of the Quran in a trash pit, an act which caused riots and loss of life. Santorum said that Karzai should be the one apologizing to us on the behalf of the "Afghan people for attacking and killing our men and women in uniform and overreacting to this inadvertent mistake."
Easy to say, isn't it? Funny how on the one hand, the secularization of America makes Santorum want to "throw up," and yet when you look at the one place in the world where faith most strongly drives policy -- the Middle East -- any admission that their faith is worthy of respect is some sort of sign of weakness. And as far as Mark Martin, the Pennsylvania judge who believes that religious opinion should trump secular law -- isn't this exactly the kind of thing that Santorum and Gingrich want? Oh, wait -- that's the wrong kind of faith. Now I get it.
It's why secularism in the public square -- and that includes public schools -- is imperative. You should be allowed to believe what you choose, and let those beliefs guide your actions in your own home and in whatever house of worship you choose (or none at all). However, when it comes to any imposition of those beliefs on another person, secular law has to win. Are you outraged by zombie Mohammad, Mr. Elbayomy? Tough. Deal with it. Rail about it to your children, your spouse, your imam. But assaulting someone? Sorry, that's not allowed. Do the fundamentalists hate the teaching of evolution in public schools? Oh, well. That's why we call it "science class." You are free, in your home and in your church, to claim that the biology teacher is a big fat liar, or failing that, to put your child in a private religious school. Do the Catholics object to the fact that health insurance covers contraception? Too bad. Contraception is legal in the United States. No one is mandating that your followers use it -- simply that it is available.
It's why Santorum's bemoaning the separation of church and state, and Gingrich's fear of the "secular left," are blatant hypocrisy. When Santorum supports Mark Martin's dismissal of the "zombie Mohammad" assault case, and Gingrich pushes to see Hindu creation stories mandated in high school science classes, I'll believe that they really are supporters of faith in its broad sense. Until then, they are just trying to accomplish here what the ayatollahs and imams already do in their own countries -- imposing, from the top down, their own religious views upon the rest of the citizenry.