By Amanda Marcotte
Rick Santorum may be a terrible politician, but when it comes to being a conduit for some of the hoariest, long-standing myths of the right, he’s ol’ reliable. His latest bleatings are of particular interest, because, without meaning to, Santorum managed to articulate one of the biggest lies that has fueled the conservative movement for decades now: The myth that America was “supposed” to be a theocracy, but somehow lost its way.
In a conference call with members of the right-wing Christian organization STAND America, a caller went on a rant about how Democrats are pushing a secret agenda to push “a number of the tenets of The Communist Manifesto,” a book the caller seemed to believe was about “amnesty, the elevation of pornography, homosexuality, gay marriage, voter fraud, open borders, mass self-importation of illegal immigrants and things of that nature.” (Zero of these issues are mentioned inThe Communist Manifesto, a book about the role of labor in capitalist societies.)
Santorum latched onto this old-fashioned red-baiting and said, “The words ‘separation of church and state’ is not in the U.S. Constitution, but it was in the constitution of the former Soviet Union. That’s where it very, very comfortably sat, not in ours.”
This myth–that separation of church and state is a modern invention created by communists/liberals/atheists and shoved down the throats of a Christian America until it forgot its theocratic roots–is a popular one on the right, perhaps the defining myth that created the modern conservative movement. It’s also pure malarkey. Even just reading the first amendment to the Constitution shows that this line is self-serving nonsense dished out by people who wish to believe they are patriots while standing against America’s grand tradition of secularism. The Constitution explicitly prohibits any law “respecting an establishment of religion,” a phrase that is so obviously about the separation of church and state that even the most literal-minded among us can get that.
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