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Liberty attacked

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"Rick Santorum has now said openly that he doesn't believe in the separation of church and state. He doesn't believe, in other words, that Americans should have the freedom to pick their own religion or to have no religion at all, and as president, he'll try to put a stop to it, the hell with the First Amendment. In Santorum's America, people would be allowed to adopt Rick Santorum's religion, and those who chose otherwise would be free to leave the country, or go to jail, or burn. Plenty of choices there." — Arkansas Times, Feb. 29.

Rick Santorum has involuntarily retired from presidential politics, but his brutal vision for America lives on. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is the point man now. In an interview with a worshipful Bill O'Reilly in March, Dolan said the idea of a wall of separation between church and state was "crazy, ludicrous" and "un-American." Dolan was the spokesman this week when Catholic schools and dioceses sued the Obama administration for exemption from a federal law requiring employers to provide workers free birth control as a part of their health insurance. (Workers don't have to use the birth control, of course.)

Dolan said the suit was about "religious liberty." This is the same argument the Catholic Church has made in Washington for years, seeking public money for the church's parochial schools: "Our religion entitles us to special treatment." As Americans United for Separation of Church and State has said, "To the bishops, 'religious liberty' has a very specific meaning. The church hierarchy tends to use the term when seeking to have church dogma written into law for all Americans to follow or when they're demanding exemptions from general laws that apply to all groups." The argument is used against same-sex marriage too, even though no churches are required to perform such ceremonies.

Frighteningly, some right-wing fundamentalist groups have now joined the campaign for school vouchers, so they can get a school system like the Catholics have, and further undermine the public schools that most children attend, and that provide opportunities for low-income and minority students that will never be theirs in parochial schools. Frightening too, is the knowledge that two-thirds of the members of the U.S. Supreme Court are Catholics, and four of them are arch-conservative, Republican appointees almost sure to vote with their church's leadership in a dispute with a liberal Protestant president. A fifth is likely to join them. This is a political lawsuit, and this Supreme Court is the most political in American history, the only one to override the people's choice of a president, the only one to hold that rich people are more entitled to political free speech than poor people.

When this country tears down the wall between church and state, it will be a very different and poorer country. It will no longer be truly free.

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