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Rabbi Saperstein to Sen. Santorum: What Do You Believe about Religion and Politics?

Rabbi Saperstein to Sen. Santorum: What Do You Believe about Religion and Politics?

Last week, presidential candidate Sen. Rick Santorum attended a service at Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Louisiana during which Rev. Dennis Terry delivered an impassioned sermon on public religious expression in America and the role of religion in solving our nation’s economic problems.  Rev. Terry first expressed that America was founded as and remains a “Christian nation” and then said we need to “put God back in America,” including in our government and public schools. Sen. Santorum was captured on a video giving Rev. Terry a resounding ovation, and he was later called up to receive a blessing. While Sen. Santorum has distanced himself from some of Rev. Terry’s remarks, this situation has raised questions as to the appropriate role of religion in politics and campaigns—an issue Rabbi David Saperstein and the Union for Reform Judaism have spoken out on repeatedly.  In light of last week’s events, Rabbi Saperstein is posing four questions to Sen. Santorum:

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1. Should we take your applause as affirmation of the sentiments of the speech? Are there parts of Rev. Terry’s message with which you disagree?  If so, what are they? 2. Rev. Terry said “There’s only one God, and his name is Jesus…If you don’t love America, if you don’t like the way we do things, I have one thing to say—get out! I said we don’t worship Buddha, we don’t worship Muhammad, we don’t worship Allah, we worship God, we worship God’s son Jesus Christ.”  He likened certain religious beliefs with not loving America, asserting those people have no place in America. You subsequently affirmed, “I believe in the freedom of religion and all religions are welcome.”  Was this intended as a specific repudiation of Rev. Terry’s statement? 3. What responsibility do you believe elected officials or candidates have to address hateful or bigoted speech when it takes place in their presence?  Is the responsibility greater if it is said by one of the candidate’s supporters?  Are there are circumstances in which you would refuse to stand by someone espousing hate speech?  What are they and why not here? 4. After Rev. Terry’s speech, you came on stage and were blessed by him.   Accepting the blessing came across to many as embracing the religious/political sentiments he had just conveyed.  Is that what you intended?    Are there clergy from whom you would not accept a blessing?  What statements or actions would cause you to draw such a line? Sen. Santorum and other candidates and elected officials are of course allowed to practice (or not practice) their religious beliefs without government interference, but Sen. Santorum’s reluctance to distance himself from the entire sermon should cause us to rethink how religion, and statements made by religious leaders in the presence of public servants, plays a role in today’s political dialogue.  We look forward to Sen. Santorum’s response on these crucial questions.

Published: 3/27/2012

Categories: Social Justice
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