Rick Santorum: ‘None of Those Other Freedoms Mean Anything’ without Freedom of Conscience

Former U.S. Senator discusses Iran, Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Rick Santorum
Rick Santorum provided his thoughts on American foreign policy Monday, including what he calls a dangerous nuclear negotiation with Iran. (Zach Marin/GW Today)
April 01, 2015

By James Irwin

Speaking Monday night at the Elliott School of International Affairs, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) attempted to channel his inner constitutional scholar.

“The most important right recognized by the Bill of Rights is the freedom of conscience,” he said. “Why? If I’m free to come here and speak, but I can’t say what I believe, what good is the freedom of speech? None of those other freedoms mean anything unless you have the freedom to say, print and gather in the name of what you believe.”

In an event sponsored by the GW Young America Foundation, Sen. Santorum, a 2012 candidate for president and possible 2016 hopeful, used the idea of inclusiveness in debate to create a discussion on two topics: the state of Indiana’s hotly contested Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and the United States’ policy toward Iran—including the on-again, off-again nuclear negotiations.

Regarding the RFRA—signed into law by Republican Gov. Mike Pence last week—Sen. Santorum returned to his Voltairian ideology, and more than once wondered out loud why the Indiana law was causing such uproar. Despite arguments to the contrary, he said, the Indiana law is identical to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1994 and similar laws implemented in 19 other states.

“President Obama voted for this act when he was a senator in Illinois,” he said.

The controversial provisions in the law—and what makes it legally confusing—are located in Sections 8, 9 and 10, which state that government can't "substantially burden a person's exercise of religion" and that individuals who think their religious beliefs could be "substantially burdened" can lean on the law to fend off lawsuits. Civil liberties and gay rights groups argue the law could be used by a business as a “license to discriminate” against people based on sexual orientation on the grounds of the religious belief of the proprietor. A front-page editorial published Tuesday in The Indianapolis Star called on Gov. Pence to enact a state law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sen. Santorum doesn’t think so.

“Not in any of those other states, or the federal government, has there been one case of discrimination—I don’t even know if there’s been one suit tried,” he said. “We all have the right to practice the faith we believe in. How can, all of a sudden, we get to a point where if you have a religious point of view on a particular moral issue, you need to be sensitized or re-educated? The only sensitivity training we need is to respect every person.”

Sen. Santorum fields questions from the audience following his remarks. Most were focused on either Iran or the state of Indiana's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law last week. Sen. Santorum supports the law. (Zach Marin/GW Today)


When the topic turned to Iran—and specifically Iran’s path toward building a nuclear weapon—Sen. Santorum became more vocal. Iran, he said, is America’s biggest foreign policy concern and isn’t being addressed properly.

“If it’s unlikely but the outcome could be catastrophic, then we should be talking about it,” he said. “We have had serious issues of national security, and we aren’t even talking about it. We’re not having this debate. That’s deadly, particularly with this agreement. I will do everything within my power to block this agreement. They will not keep it. [Iran] has never kept a treaty, ever.”

The idea of debate and discourse were on YAF President Emily Jashinsky’s mind prior to Sen. Santorum’s remarks.

“Of all the places in the world, college campuses should be places where we challenge ourselves to engage in free thought and tackle the most difficult debates that face us today,” she said. “Listening to the beliefs of other people can only strengthen your world view.”

Though he hedged his answers regarding questions of another presidential run, Sen. Santorum did give some indication as to his first foreign policy acts in the White House. Once again, they concerned the imminent nuclear deal with Iran.

“If I run and am elected president, it won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on,” he said.

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