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Santorum questions separation of church and state

Republican presidential candidate defends criticism of JFK

Rick Santorum stood by comments he made last year when he said he was disturbed by President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech in which he declared that the separation of church and state should be absolute.

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Rick Santorum stood by comments he made last year when he said he was disturbed by President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech in which he declared that the separation of church and state should be absolute.

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who has made his conservative stance on religious and social issues one of the centerpieces of his Republican presidential campaign, questioned the idea of a complete separation of church and state yesterday.

Santorum stood by comments he made last year when he said he was disturbed by President John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech in which he declared that the separation of church and state should be absolute.

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“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,’’ Santorum said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week.’’ “The idea that the church should have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical of the objectives and vision of our country.’’

Santorum’s conservative social views have come under increasing scrutiny as he has soared in the polls nationally and come to challenge former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

He has waded into battles about insurance coverage of contraception, federal support for education, and what he referred to as President Obama’s “theology’’ on the environment. Yesterday, Santorum was forced to defend his views on college education and on the separation of religion and politics.

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His original comments on Kennedy’s speech came in a talk at the College of Saint Mary Magdalen in New Hampshire in October. “Earlier in my political career I had opportunity to read the speech, and I almost threw up,’’ Santorum said at the time.

Kennedy’s speech was intended to address skepticism over his own religion as a Catholic running for president. Kennedy called for an America “where no Catholic prelate would tell the president - should he be Catholic - how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.’’

Santorum said he considered the speech as going beyond the First Amendment.

“That means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square,’’ he said. “Kennedy for the first time articulated a vision saying ‘no, faith is not allowed in the public square, I will keep it separate.’ ’’

Santorum said his point was how important it is for everybody - including those of faith - to feel welcome in politics. “What kind of country do we live in that says only people of nonfaith can come in the public square and make their case?’’ he said.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,’’ Santorum said the major American movements that opposed slavery and supported civil rights were led by people of faith. “The idea we need to segregate faith is a dangerous idea,’’ he said.

Santorum also defended comments he made Saturday in Michigan, criticizing President Obama’s statements encouraging pursuit of a college education.

“President Obama wants everyone in America to go to college. What a snob,’’ he said.

On ABC, Santorum explained, “There are a lot of people in this country that have no desire, or no aspiration to go to college because they have a different set of skills, desires, and dreams that don’t include college.’’ Santorum said technical schools, apprenticeships, or vocational training could be more appropriate for some people than college.

Shira Schoenberg can be reached at sschoenberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shiraschoenberg.
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