Lefties like HL are quick to condemn erosion of Jefferson’s strict wall between church and state, enshrined in absolute terminology in the first phrase of the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) and usually assign all blame for that to the right.  After all it is Clarence Thomas who consistently writes and votes that any state could establish a religion, such as the Seikh Commonwealth of Virginia.  Justice Thomas points out that 1A reads “Congress shall make no law. . .” with no restriction on the states.  And it is clear that new Justice Barrett takes the most extreme and most expansive view of the free exercise clause – exempting the faithful from obeying many civil rights, public health and other generally applicable laws if those conflict with religious beliefs or impinge upon their observance.  Barret’s vote vetoed New York’s Covid emergency restrictions on the number of worshippers allowed in houses of. . .

But there’s also blood, or in this case crumbling mortar, on the hands of many powerful and influential lefties for weakening the once strong and clear barrier that protected both state and church from the damage they suffer when Caesar and God are not served separately.

Jimmy Carter

It was Jimmy Carter who took the biggest modern pick-axe to the wall.  His 1976 campaign was dominated by flaunting his rebirth and his constant self-description and precise definition of his Evangelicalism.  He said “Evangelical to me is someone who related their experience with Christ and others in hopes that the other person will accept Christ as savior.”  Good stuff for Jimmy’s Sunday School class but not so much as part of the stump speech in a campaign to become numero uno preserver/protector/defender of our Constitution.  The Carter campaign’s comic/tragic highlight was the candidate’s Playboy interview where he cited The Sermon on The Mount while admitting that he was no better than any adulterer, because he had “lusted for a woman outside of marriage.”  Bobbie Gentry no doubt.

After Carter the frequency and need for candidates to pander to the overtly religious increased exponentially – in one of the few instances where that adjective is not a gross exaggeration.  And of course the group most desirous of such pandering were Jimmy’s fellow evangelicals.

Back on the right, the worst panderer and most constitutionally illiterate has been former Senator Rick Santorum.  During his 2012 bid to become the Republican candidate for President, Santorum said that JFK’s 1960 “render unto Caesar” speech made him “want to throw up.”  When Kennedy made that speech, the American Protestant opposition to a Roman Catholic president was strong and quantitatively overwhelming and especially among Southern Baptists.  They frequently referred to the Roman church as the “great harlot.”  And for once black and white Southern Baptists were united.

Kennedy confronted the issue head on in a speech to Southern Baptist ministers in Houston, when he pledged that his faith would not dictate his execution of the law.  The Pope would not be his boss, as thousands of Protestant ministers had sermonized.  With that speech, Kennedy far surpassed the tiny percentage of Protestants who had voted for the last Catholic candidate, Al Smith in 1928.  JFK got a whopping 23 percent of the Protestant vote and with 80% of voting Catholics he won with a razor thin margin.

Al Smith

JFK’s once unthinkable victory as a Catholic made other unthinkables at least imaginable.  Such as an African-American President, a Latino-American, a woman, an Asian American, an LGBTQ-American, a Muslim-American and an American-Jew.[1]  Jews understood that in 1960, and 90 percent voted for Kennedy, and provided that razor thin margin.  HL’s lifelong Republican dad explained his vote for JFK this way: “if a Catholic can be elected that means someday a Jew can as well.”  The substantial lack of interest in Joe Biden’s Catholic faith last year was in no small part due to Kennedy and his historic 1960 Speech.

There’s been great progress on that score, making it possible for non-Protestants and non-Christians to gain elective office.  But the need to profess faith, notwithstanding 1A and several other constitutional provisions that prohibit a faith test and offer affirmation and oath as equal alternatives, has increased, and again exponentially.  And the wall while not tumbling down is under withering assault.

A measure of how much damage the wall has suffered since JFK’s pivotal speech is not just the Santorum sentiment that enjoys widespread support among Republicans, but an equally disturbing trend among those on the left.  When departing Attorney General Bill Barr hastened the execution of several federal death row convicts on his way out, both pundits and journalists on CNN, NPR, MSNBC and other left leaning media outlets repeatedly feigned “shock, shock” that Roman Catholic Barr, who recently had been honored with the “Faithful Christian Laity” award by the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, could enforce the death penalty sentences that his job not only permitted but actually might require him to enforce.  The administration official that could have spared these lives was Donald Trump, but he was too busy pardoning Blackwater mercenaries who murdered Iraqi civilians, including children.

Jack Nicholson

As Joe Biden comes in he should not merely remember the debt he owes to JFK and his 1960 speech but his self-professed constitutional expertise that HL heard him proclaim a number of times when we testified before the committees and subcommittees he chaired.  If Biden does that he will proclaim YOU WANT ME ON THAT WALL, YOU NEED ME ON THAT WALL.

[1]   See/blame Philip Roth for the process by which Jewish-Americans became American-Jews.