Former US Republican Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 15, 2013.
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Santorum on Bibles in schools: ‘Yes we can’

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) is giving every indication that he’s planning another presidential campaign, and over the weekend at a religious right rally, he gave a hint of the kind of national platform he’ll pursue.
“Why are Bibles no longer in public schools? Don’t give me the Supreme Court. The reason Bibles are no longer in the public schools is because we let them take them out of the public schools.”
 
He added a variation on President Obama’s campaign chant: “You say, ‘Well we can’t get them back in.’ Yes we can. Yes we can!”
“How much are you willing to sacrifice?” the Republican continued. “One person got the Bibles out of the schools. We have more than one person here! But you’ve got to have the same passion in preserving our country as they do to transform it.”
 
Santorum, who actually went to law school and served as a federal lawmaker for 16 years, is apparently a little confused. He made repeated references to a troublesome “they” – it was “they” who made public schools secular; “they” are trying to transform the country – but his condemnations are at odds with certain basic facts.
 
The first truth that Santorum is struggling with is the status of current law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled over a half-century ago that coercive, government-sponsored Bible reading is at odds with the First Amendment. In a way, this was the kind of ruling Santorum should like: the high court’s majority said it’s not the government’s job to promote one religion’s sacred text to children. Rather, that’s the job of parents, families, and leaders from the faith community.
 
This wasn’t the result of “one person”; it was an 8-1 ruling from the Supreme Court, enforcing the First Amendment embraced by hundreds of millions of Americans. When Santorum says “we let them take them out of the public schools,” it sounds like he’s suggesting some school districts should have ignored the court ruling and defied the rule of law, all to empower government to impose one religion’s book on children.
 
That’s a bad idea, at least in the American tradition.
 
The second truth that Santorum doesn’t seem to fully appreciate is that no one has removed the Bible or any other religious text from schools. Right now, under current law, if a student wants to bring a religious text to a public school, he or she is allowed to do exactly that. If a group of students want to form an after-school Bible study, that’s fine, too.
 
All’s that required is neutrality from the school. That’s it. Students can pray, say grace in the cafeteria, read Scripture during free time, invite classmates to religious services, etc. So long as the school isn’t taking sides or getting involved in religious lessons, everything’s kosher.
 
Santorum, however, evidently believes that’s not good enough. What’s necessary, he suggested over the weekend, is to roll back the clock to a time when public-sector employees – the folks Santorum and his party aren’t usually fond of – took a direct role in imposing religion on children.
 
“Yes we can”? No, senator, you can’t. You might try to change the Constitution to allow government-sponsored religion, but that’s wholly unnecessary and it’s all but certain to fail.
 

Rick Santorum

Santorum on Bibles in schools: 'Yes we can'