Santorum from the Religion Angle

Rick Santorum is a Catholic, and won the majority of the evangelical vote in Iowa Tuesday night. Here’s a look at his religious views on the hot-button issues of his religious right base:

Science and Intelligent Design

When Santorum first entered the race last year, Lauri Lebo reported that he set himself apart from the other Republicans by being the most anti-science of the bunch. In addition to being a global warming denialist, Santorum favors personhood status for fertilized eggs and opposes embryonic stem cell research. But Lauri, a veteran of covering the Dover intelligent design trial, noted this additional bit of Santorum history:

Santorum is known for the so-called “Santorum Amendment,” which was proposed as part of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act as a veiled attempt to get pro-intelligent design language into a federal law.

Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.

While the wording was removed before the final passage of the bill, it remains part of the legislative history. It carries no authority, but remains in the notes as sort of a fossil record of the bill’s discussions. Still that hasn’t kept creationists and intelligent design proponents from arguing that it’s part of the law, evidently with Santorum’s blessing.

During the 2005 trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover, the school board’s attorney Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center tried to make the argument that federal law recommended that students learn alternatives to evolution such as the teaching of intelligent design.

The decision invalidating the teaching of intelligent design in public schoools came down while Santorum was fighting to retain his Senate seat. More the politician than the uncompromising conservative he claims to be to GOP primary voters, Santorum promptly denounced intelligent design. (He lost anyway.)

Secularism and Islam: A Fight for “Christendom”

During the uproar over the proposed building of the Park51 center in lower Manhattan, Santorum entered the fever swamp of conspiracy theorists by claiming that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf was a jihadist. But Santorum’s foray into the Islamophobia camp was nothing new: after he lost his Senate seat in 2006, he earned cash as the director of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Program to Promote and Protect America’s Freedom, where he anointed himself an expert on how America is locked in a civilizational battle with Islam.

When I interviewed Santorum for a story on Islamophobia in 2007, he was fully latched on to the conservative theory (which, incidentally, wraps reproductive politics into the mix) that because Europe has become too secular, Europeans aren’t reproducing enough, thus making the continent ripe for an Islamic takeover. Santorum told me:

if you look at Europe, Europe is not fighting by and large. And the reason they’re not fighting is because they’ve lost the culture war. They are a post-Christian country, they are not a people of faith, their churches are empty, they are people who are not reproducing at any rate to sustain a population. I think the number I heard is every 32 years the population,  the European population of Europe will be reduced by 50%. That’s how bad their birthrates are. This is in many respects a dying continent from the standpoint of European-Europeans. And if we lose faith, and we lose the culture war and become a completely secular, materialistic society, then we will go the way of the Europeans and we will have no heart to face these people. The problem with the Europeans is that they are completely secular folks, by and large, who see the world through the eyes of reason. Well, these people don’t – these people reject reason. These people say that their lives are governed by faith, period, by the rule of law. That was handed down in Sharia. And it is all-encompassing and it is perfect and it is not to be added to. And that there is no room for this.

Only orthodox Catholics and evangelicals, Santorum claimed, understand this civilizational battle for “Christendom.” They, too, it seems, understand the “war on fertility” (hence Santorum’s support for banning birth control) and its role in this alleged decline of “Christendom.”

Abortion

Don’t miss this instant classic from Sarah Morice-Brubaker, writing last June after Santorum said that exceptions to abortion bans to protect the health of the mother are “phony:”

Now, I actually was there when the original plot was hatched, funnily enough: It was back in 1973, at the Women’s Exchange tea room in Eugene, Oregon. (To the public, it was billed as a Missionary Society presentation.) We had just finished singing a song about the weavings of our foremothers wombs, or something, and just before that Missy “No Pants” McDonyell had given a presentation arguing that it should be illegal for a man to grill meat in his own backyard. (Ostensibly, as I recall, it was because of the sexist construction of male cooking as public performance and female cooking as private duty. In actuality, it was because we hate men with all of our little shriveled-up cold cold hearts of tar, and we want to force them to consume Diet Coke and petit-fours shaped like Kotex, simply out of spite.) Then the business meeting started, after which we planned to enjoy a light lunch.

Anyway, that’s when someone — I forget who — brought a motion to the floor. And it was a thing of beauty in its sheer simplicity, I have to say. I still get chills when I think of it. She said, “Hey, sisters! How about we pretend as though pregnancy can, sometimes, become a fatal condition that causes the pregnant woman in question to actually die? Wouldn’t that be a gas?”

In a statement that presaged a comment he made campaigning in Iowa, nearly a year ago Santorum criticized President Obama’s support for abortion rights thusly: “‘I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say, ‘we’re going to decide who are people and who are not people.’” There, he was tapping into the “black genocide” claims of the anti-choice movement, which is motivated by religious activism and helped propel the charge to defund Planned Parenthood.

Sex and Religious Freedom

Santorum’s anti-gay views and Google problem are well-known, but it’s worth pointing out how this is related to current religious right attempts to cast rights for LGBT people as an infringement on Christian “religious freedom.” At the notorious debate in September at which a gay soldier was booed after asking about Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Santorum said the repeal of DADT meant “we are going to recognize a group of people and give them a special privilege.” That supposed privilege, Santorum said while campaigning a month earlier, has trumped religious liberty: 

“Religious liberty is now trumped because we have now created a super-right,” he said. “We have a right the Constitution of religious liberty but now the courts have created a super-right that’s above a right that’s actually in the Constitution, and that’s of sexual liberty. And I think that’s a wrong, that’s a destructive element.”

This statement, of course, is wrong as a matter of fact, and reflects a bizarre misinterpretation of constitutional law. The rights protected by the First Amendment (including the right to free exercise of religion) are not preempted by rights protected by the 14th Amendment–under which the courts have never recognized a right to “sexual liberty.” Santorum may disagree with the settled law of Griswold v. Connecticut, which invalidated contraception bans based on a right to privacy, but the Court did not create a right to “sexual liberty” which trumps the First Amendment. But Santorum’s statements represent the rightward trajectory of the religious freedom argument, which started out arguing that LGBT and abortion rights infringe on Christians’ religious liberty, and are beginning to move toward making such arguments about contraception. 

Santorum peddles in paranoias that secularism (and, here, rights relating to sex and gender) will lead to a decline in Christianity, which will lead to a decline in fertility, which will open America to a takeover by Islamists. In his mind, it’s all tied together, and it all has to do with religion.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email