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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

Clergy, others rip Rick Santorum

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum spoke to supporters at an election night rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., last night.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum spoke to supporters at an election night rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., last night.

Rick Santorum, a Catholic who has used his views to appeal to Christian conservatives, has angered religious leaders across much of the spectrum for his comments denigrating John F. Kennedy’s famous speech calling for a clear delineation between church and state.

On Sept. 12, 1960, Kennedy, the Democratic candidate for president, stood before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association and delivered a speech defending himself from skepticism over his Catholic faith.

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With soaring rhetoric, Kennedy outlined a vision of America in which no church would impose its will on government, and no president would face a religious test for office. “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,’’ he said. “I do not speak for my church on public matters - and the church does not speak for me.’’

In October, Santorum said that when he read the remarks, “I almost threw up.’’

On ABC’s “This Week’’ on Sunday, the Republican candidate for the presidency defended his remarks. “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,’’ he said.

The comments shocked some clergy.

“One of the things that happened when President Kennedy spoke is that he raised the level of public debate,’’ said the Rev. Nick Carter, president of Andover Newton Theological School. “I grieve that Mr. Santorum has lowered the level of public debate.’’

Carter said Santorum’s comments show a misunderstanding of the principle of separation of church and state that Kennedy laid out. Carter said separation of church and state does not mean the public sphere has no place for people of faith, but that there is room for people of all faiths.

“The nature of what Kennedy did is he showed that he can be a person of deep personal faith but he can be a political leader who can be trusted by all,’’ Carter said. “It seems as though Mr. Santorum is more interested in feeding the issues of distrust and fear.’’

The Rev. Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, an ecumenical body of 17 Protestant and Orthodox churches, said her organization participates broadly in public life, on political issues ranging from opposition to the death penalty to alleviating poverty.

Everett said Santorum’s remarks “were hard words to hear.’’ “When I went back to read [Kennedy’s] speech again, I was struck by what a generous and hopeful vision of religious diversity that Kennedy spoke of 50 years ago,’’ Everett said.

Even those who agree with Santorum’s sentiments question his turn of phrase. H.L. Champion, president of Baptist.org, an online platform for Baptists to espouse their faith, said he sympathizes with Santorum’s views. But he said the comment about throwing up was “superfluous.’’ He believes Santorum, as a Catholic, was trying to distance himself from Kennedy.

The Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit organization formed to fight anti-Semitism, sent out a press release labeling Santorum’s comments “deeply disturbing’’ and “a profound misunderstanding of the First Amendment.’’

Derrek Shulman, director for ADL in New England, said in an interview that the group was “taken aback’’ at Santorum’s interpretation of the Constitution and of Kennedy’s speech. “Kennedy was not trying to impose secular values on people of faith. He was trying to protect individual religious liberty, including and especially the liberty of those in religious minorities,’’ Shulman said. — SHIRA SCHOENBERG

Obama hits GOP hopefuls over rescue of automakers

WASHINGTON - In a politically sizzling attack, President Obama accused his Republican presidential challengers yesterday of abandoning the American worker and credited the federal bailout for the auto industry’s resurgence, while singling out GOP opposition to the taxpayer-backed rescue of General Motors and Chrysler that he helped engineer.

Speaking to a raucous United Auto Workers audience, Obama said assertions by Republican presidential candidates that only union members profited from the taxpayer-paid rescue are a “load of you know what.’’

Even though Obama did not mention his critics by party or by name, the speech’s delivery and content had all the makings of a political stump speech. Even the timing had political overtones, purposefully delivered just as voters in Michigan - a center of auto manufacturing - went to cast their ballots in the state’s Republican nominating contest.

Union president Bob King praised Obama as “the champion of all workers’’ who “saved our jobs and saved our industry,’’ an introduction that elicited chants of “four more years!’’ from a crowd estimated at about 1,700 UAW members.

In highlighting the auto industry’s comeback, Obama drew a distinct contrast with Republican presidential candidates such as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, both of whom have said they would not have used government money to save GM and Chrysler.

Obama’s speech came as auto sales are surging, on a pace to exceed 14 million this year. Automakers and parts companies added more than 38,000 jobs last year. And automakers have announced plans to add another 13,000 jobs this year.

As recently as Sunday, Romney said Obama favored the UAW in the bailout and that the president was “paying off the people that supported him.’’ Santorum expressed a similar sentiment.

Obama left no doubt they were his targets. “You’ve got folks saying, ‘Well, the real problem is, what we really disagreed with was the workers, they all made out like bandits’; that saving the American auto industry was just about paying back unions,’’ Obama said. “Really?’’

He noted that under the agreement to use taxpayer money to save GM and Chrysler, union members had to agree to reduced wages and that thousands of retirees saw reductions in their health care benefits. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

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