As we write, the Republican presidential primary is so fiercely contested that one of the candidates has resorted to telling the truth, long considered the "third rail" of Republican politics. Nobody ever caught George W. Bush being truthful, or Richard Nixon.
But 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.
There's more good news for religious bigots: Newt Gingrich, another desperate politician, has been driven almost to the point of candor too. As of Tuesday, Gingrich was still only poor-mouthing freedom of religion, but drawing nearer to the open renunciation apparently becoming fashionable in his party. We'll know it's the thing when Mitt Romney gets on board.
Disposing of freedom of religion would doubtless be on the agenda of the constitutional convention that 47 members of the Arkansas legislature recently sought, hoping to spruce up the Constitution by trimming some of the dangling liberties on the old document. A couple of those legislators now operate private schools that use state money to promote their owners' religion. This practice has lately encountered opposition, but the opponents would be disarmed once religious freedom was removed from the Constitution. That's all they have on their side — the basic law of the land — other than decency and good sense.
Free speech is another troublesome First Amendment right that would surely be re-examined at a new constitutional convention. Who really wants to hear speech that they disagree with? Not Congressional Republicans, certainly. They've voted repeatedly for more restrictions on political speech, for constitutional suppression of words and actions that the majority or the majority's representatives disapprove of, in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment. Don't burn the flag, they say, burn freedom.
State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, was the chief sponsor of the resolution calling for a new constitutional convention to rewrite what George Washington and those other old guys did in the ignorance that comes from not knowing Jason Rapert. Let him at it. This was such a scary scenario that even Jeannie Burlsworth, the head of Arkansas's anti-immigrant movement, warned against it. The resolution was withdrawn. You know you're an extremist when Jeannie Burlsworth advises moderation.
The late Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, born 100 years ago almost to the day, was a Republican who championed liberty and justice for all. He'd never get his party's nomination today. Or want it.