The UnKennedy
We’re more American for Santorum’s run.


Kathryn Jean Lopez

The archbishop made these comments in 2010, on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy speech. Fast forward to today: Religion is in the news, as the Obama administration shows an unprecedented hostility to the free practice of religion in America. As it happens, Catholics are in the driver’s seat on the administration’s latest offensive, or are at least providing political cover: The federal mandate that requires contraceptive, sterilization, and even some abortion coverage for all — with only the narrowest of exceptions — was presented to us by Catholic Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius and has been defended by former Scranton altar boy Joe Biden. 

Which presents the central question: Are we a people who believe that truly living as believers — being fully integrated persons who truly practice their faith — is good for society? One archbishop declared at the prayer breakfast that “merely tolerating religion with hostility is not religious freedom.” The word the current administration uses is “accommodation.” Which leads to another question this election year: When exactly did we become a nation that merely “accommodates” religious freedom?

Catholics have also been featured in recent headlines discussing budgetary matters, with left-wing Catholics opposing the Paul Ryan budget plan and Congressman Ryan defending his ideas as a prudential application of the Catholic social thought he holds dear. It’s a healthy conversation when it is sincere and not just a cynical distraction, and it is useful if it reinvigorates our belief as a people that the nation is enriched by participants in our civic, economic, and political life who take their beliefs seriously. 

Rick Santorum’s primary campaign represented a renewal of this healthy integration of faith in our politics. He spoke as one who has confidence in a Constitution that does not consider itself God but protects the dignity of man. He spoke with the authentic populism of one who as a public servant takes his vocational discernment seriously. At a time when the religion of secularism threatens to overcome our state — just as it has in many ways our culture — we’re better for Santorum’s run. We’re more American for it, if we — believers and non-believers alike — follow his lead in not only protecting but actually welcoming the flourishing of religion in America. Fifty years from now, Santorum’s repudiation of what was wrong with the Kennedy approach will be hailed as a game changer for the role of religion in American life — or as a warning we failed to heed.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.