Santorum stresses religious liberty, shielding children

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

One in a series of articles on the First Amendment record and views of 2012 presidential candidates.

Although presidential candidate Rick Santorum has said little about many First Amendment issues, his focus on religious liberty and on shielding children from certain media and information are prominent on his record in the Senate and on the campaign trail.

In the Senate
During his 12 years in the Senate (1995-2007), Santorum introduced several pieces of legislation implicating freedom of speech and of religion.

Santorum advocated shielding children from controversial forms of media. In 1999, he introduced the Neighborhood Children’s Internet Protection Act, a bill that would require public schools and libraries to install filtering software or adopt Internet-use policies to prevent students from accessing material deemed inappropriate. The bill would allow the school board or library to determine which such material was inappropriate for minors. Santorum’s bill died in committee, but much of its content was included in a House appropriations bill that became law in 2000. The bill’s Children’s Internet Protection section required schools and libraries to use Internet filtering software in order to continue receiving federal money.

Santorum was also one of nine senators to sign a letter in 1999 to Seagrams/MCA, the parent company of rock band Marilyn Manson’s record label, requesting that the company stop profiting from “peddling violence to young people.” The letter, written by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said the students involved in the Littleton, Colo., school shootings had been influenced by Manson’s songs about violence.

On the issue of campaign finance, Santorum favored leniency in contribution and advertising limits. In 1997, he sponsored the Voter Empowerment and Campaign Disclosure Act of 1997, The bill, which died in committee, would have increased individual and political action committee contribution limits while also increasing disclosure requirements. In 2002, Santorum voiced opposition to the McCain-Feingold Act, arguing that it violated the right to free speech and that the limits on political advertisements were particularly troubling.

Santorum legislated on several religious-freedom issues during his time in the Senate.

In 1999, he introduced the Women and Children’s Resources Act, designed to “establish a program of formula grants to the states for programs to provide women with alternatives to abortion.” The bill did not make it past the committee stage.

He also co-sponsored unsuccessful attempts to pass the Workplace Religious Freedom Act in 2002, 2003, and 2005. The bill would have amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to “establish provisions with respect to religious accommodation in employment.”

In 2002, opponents of the Ohio Board of Education’s decision to teach evolution exclusively cited an amendment proposed by Santorum to the No Child Left Behind Act. The amendment, which passed the Senate but was deleted in compromise negotiations with the House, would have required the “full range of scientific views” to be taught when biological evolution was discussed. In a letter published in The Washington Times, Santorum said that without standards that would teach alternatives to evolution, Ohio would be denying its students the most thorough education.

“Dissenting theories should not be repressed, but discussed openly. To do otherwise is to violate intellectual freedom,” he wrote.

Santorum supported patriotic efforts in the Senate, co-sponsoring resolutions that passed expressing support for the Pledge of Allegiance in 2002 and 2003. He co-sponsored unsuccessful resolutions in 1998, 1999 and 2001 prohibiting physical desecration of the American flag.

At the end of his second term, a Santorum book-signing generated controversy in 2006 when several young women were asked by a state trooper to leave a Barnes & Noble store in Wilmington, Del. The women were discussing their opposition to Santorum’s opinions in his book It Takes a Family. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Delaware state police officer involved and Santorum representatives present that was eventually settled. Under the settlement agreement, the Delaware State Police adopted a training program on protesters’ free-speech rights. Although the Santorum staff denied involvement with the request to leave, two of his aides were required to write apology letters to the plaintiffs and pay them a collective $2,500, the amount they received for assisting Santorum on the book tour.

Candidate Santorum
As a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Santorum has continued to focus on religion as a First Amendment issue.

During appearances on ABC’s “This Week” and NBC’s “Meet the Press” in February, Santorum discussed his interpretation of President John F. Kennedy’s speech about the separation of church and state.

“I don’t believe in an America where separation of church and state is absolute,” he told “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos. He went on to say that the idea that “people of faith have no role in the public square” makes him “want to throw up,” insinuating that Kennedy’s view would violate the First Amendment by banning expression of religion in the public sphere in favor of secular views.

Meanwhile, earlier in February, Santorum said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that President Barack Obama “tramples [the First Amendment] on a regular basis” when asked about the administration’s requirement that religious employers cover birth control in employee health-insurance plans.

“The First Amendment is sort of important in this country. And while not everybody necessarily agrees on how you exercise the First Amendment, people do believe you have the right to exercise it. And they don’t believe the government should be … forcing you to do things that you find deeply, morally wrong,” Santorum said.

At a rally preceding the Minnesota primary in February, Santorum also criticized the Obama administration when the office of the Chief Chaplains of the U.S. Army did not allow Catholic chaplains to read a letter from Timothy Broglio, archbishop for the military services. The letter encouraged Catholics to oppose the mandate requiring Catholic employers to provide contraception coverage. Secretary of the Army John McHugh later allowed the letter to be read but he told Broglio to remove the line, “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.”

“This is not just an affront to the First Amendment freedom of religion, it’s an affront to the first amendment freedom of speech,” Santorum said.

Santorum has attacked Obama’s personal worldview with suggestions that it lacks an adequate religious basis. In February, Santorum said Obama practiced “a different theology” that is “not a theology based on the Bible.” Santorum told CBS News’ “Sunday Morning” Feb. 19 that the comments were in reference to Obama’s environmental views, rather than to his faith. Santorum said that Obama had “a world view that elevates the earth above man.” However, the Associated Press reported that later that day, Santorum assailed Obama’s “theology” again, without referring to environmental policies, in a speech to more than 2,000 supporters at a megachurch in suburban Atlanta.

On his campaign website, Santorum espouses dedication to the First Amendment right to freedom of religion, highlighting his support in 2004 of a federal amendment defining marriage.

Santorum has also pledged to enforce laws against pornography if he is elected president. On his website, he criticizes the Obama administration for “turning a blind eye” and neglecting to enforce current obscenity laws that prohibit hard-core pornography from being distributed on the Internet and television or through retail stores or the mail.

“While the Obama Department of Justice seems to favor pornographers over children and families, that will change under a Santorum Administration,” he says on his website.

On the issue of protest, Santorum’s comments about the Occupy movement received attention in February.

“I think it’s really important for you to understand what this radical element represents. Because what they represent is true intolerance,” he said. The comments followed an incident in Washington where protesters shouted throughout an entire Santorum event and threw glitter on the candidate.

Santorum added that the 9th Circuit’s decision to overturn California’s same-sex marriage ban was another example of the group’s intolerance.

“What they said was that anybody who disagreed with them [was] irrational and the only reason they could possibly agree is they were a hater or a bigot,” he said. “Now I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with these people but I respect their opportunity to be able to have a different point of view and I don’t think they’re a hater or a bigot because they disagree with me.”

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