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Opening a Gate in the Wall of Separation of Church and State

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For an election that was supposed to be all about the economy, we're spending a lot of time on the role religion should play in public life.

Thanks to some unfortunate remarks from a couple of the presidential candidates, we now know they believe the constitutional wall of separation between church and state is more like a hedge, an open gate, or worse, a fenceless backyard.

Thomas Jefferson didn't mince words when he called it a "wall of separation."

That's why the ACLU Liberty Watch 2012 campaign just released a new candidate report card on religious freedom issues, including government funding of religion, teaching creationism in public schools and school-sponsored prayer. Its findings suggest the First Amendment's wall might turn into rubble if many of the candidates had their way.

The highest score went to President Obama, who earned 14 torches out of a possible 20. Mitt Romney was the highest-scoring Republican candidate, a dubious distinction, after earning a mere four torches.

At least he did better than Rick Santorum, who could not light a single torch on any issue. Then again, that's hardly a surprise. Santorum has made a point of telling Americans that the wall makes him sick to his stomach.

Throughout his campaign, Santorum has talked about constitutional values while taking positions at odds with the freedoms we cherish. On Monday, Santorum told a crowd in Alabama: "The Constitution does not give us rights. It recognizes rights that are written on our heart because we are a creature of God. That's where we get our rights from."

News to us.

Here are some more highlights from the report card:
  • Gingrich, Romney, Santorum and Ron Paul all support school-sponsored prayer in some form. Gingrich even supports unseating federal judges who reject school-sponsored prayer. Obama has been troublingly silent on the issue. Many assume he's on the side of the Constitution but we would like him to confirm that. And, even though some candidates may lead you to believe otherwise, the ACLU vigorously supports the right of students to voluntarily pray in school.
  • There is a divide among the GOP candidates on teaching creationism in science class: Santorum supports such a move, which is opposed by Gingrich, Paul and Romney.
  • With the exception of Obama, all of the candidates support a measure that would allow employers to use religion to discriminate by denying their employees insurance coverage for contraception and other health services.

Robert Frost offered some sage advice here: "good fences make good neighbors." And a wall is a great fence.

Let's keep our "wall of separation" a wall -- not a hedge, a field or even chicken wire. If we do so, church and state can stay good neighbors in the lives of the American people.

Around the Web

Rick Santorum Asserts Support For Church And State Separation ...

Santorum and Madison on church and state - Political Bookworm ...

Separating church and state, Kennedy and Santorum - latimes.com

When Santorum Talks About Church and State - NYTimes.com

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