Santorum Says He Agrees With MLK on Moral Basis for Human Rights; Can’t Understand Why Obama Would Deny Them to an Unborn Child

January 20, 2011 - 5:18 PM

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.)

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.)

(CNSNews.com) - Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.) said in a recent interview with CNSNews.com that he agrees with the argument that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., made in his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail that a just law is a manmade law that comports with the natural law or the law of God, and that he finds it “almost remarkable” that a black man like President Barack Obama would want to deny legal recognition for the human rights of an unborn child.

Santorum’s remarks came in a one-hour and forty-minute interview in the context of a discussion about the advocacy of natural law by the first-century-B.C. Roman senator Cicero, the Founding Fathers’ belief in a God-given natural law—which Santorum said he shared—and the natural law's application to contemporary policy issues.

In explaining his views, Santorum said that slavery was an example of an immoral policy in American history that had violated the natural law and needed to be changed.

“What Cicero is referring to is really that … there are two laws,” said Santorum. “There's the secular law, there's man made laws, and then there's a higher law. There's the sacred law, the universal law, the natural law, that we learn in America by and large through faith, through the moral code that faith teaches, but that is discernable through the philosophers, too, through right reason. And that law sits over the secular law, and is one that we have to achieve.

“So that when we had slavery in this country, slavery did not conform to the natural law, and as a result there was agitation, always,” said Santorum. “Abortion doesn't conform to the natural law. Why? Because we don't—all life should be respected. And so this agitation of having secular laws inconsistent with the natural law is something that we've dealt with in America from its very founding. But we have to recognize that there is a place for the articulation of the sacred law, or the natural law, or the universal law, and that they need to be in the public square and they need to be involved in the political discourse because there are moral components to every single law we pass.”

When asked whether he agreed with Dr. Martin Luther King’s statement in his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail that a just law is a manmade law that comports with the natural law or the law of God and that unjust laws--like the segregation laws that then prevailed in the South—are laws that do not, Santorum said, “Absolutely.” He also pointed out that he had quoted this passage from King’s letter in a speech he had recently given in Houston.

Santorum said he believed that America has been able to maintain a certain “equanimity” when debating deeply divisive issues because of our democratic system which has allowed the people to decide such issues through open public discourse.

If you think about it, America is unique in the sense that we have people coming from very disparate backgrounds, very different points of view, and yet we have a equanimity here in America,” said Santorum. “We always figure out a way to sort of work things out in America. Why? Why does someone from Serbia and someone from Croatia--that if they lived in the Balkans would be at each others throats--move next door to each other in Cleveland and are on the PTA together and get along. How does that work? Well it works because America is different. It's [James] Madison perfect remedy, which is a vibrant, active, inclusive public square. Everybody's allowed in. People of faith, people of non-faith, and you can make your claims, you can argue your point, and then you can let the discourse decide. You don't have the elite, the planners, the smart people saying, no, this is how we are going to do things.”

Santorum suggested the Supreme Court had sometimes short-circuited this system in recent years by pulling the most contentious moral issues out of the public square and deciding them unilaterally from the court itself.

“And if the sacred law and secular the law don't match up--as the Supreme Court has done now on numerous occasions, whether it’s marriage or abortion, or a whole host of other issues,” said Santorum, “they've sort of pulled that discussion, that perfect remedy, and pulled the plug on it, and said, no, we're going to impose our remedy, an imperfect one, based upon the elites of our culture.”

In expressing his view that all human beings, whether born or unborn, are persons who have the same God-given right to life, Santorum said, “I find it almost remarkable for a black man [such as President Obama] to say, no, we are going to decide who are people and who are not people.

“Every person, every child conceived in the womb has a right to life from the moment of conception. Why? Because they are human, genetically human, at the moment of conception,” said Santorum. “They have the same genetic composition as you and I do from that moment on. And it's alive. So it is human, by genetic, and it is alive, so it's a human life. So the question is, not whether this is a human life.

“When Barack Obama is asked is a child in the womb a human life? [He says,] 'Oh, well, that's above my pay grade.' Just about everything else in the world he's willing to do, to have the government do, but he can't answer that basic question, which is not a debatable issue at all. I don't think you'll find a biologist in the world who will say that that is not a human life. The question is--and this is what Barack Obama didn't want to answer--is that human life a person under the Constitution? And Barack Obama says no. Well, if that person, human life, is not a person, then I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say, no, we are going to decide who are people and who are not people.”

Santorum was alluding to a statement Obama had made on Aug. 16, 2008, when he appeared at the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency at the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Pastor Rick Warren asked Obama at that forum: “At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?”

Obama answered: “Well, you know, I think that whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.”

On March 30, 2001, Obama had been the only member of the Illinois state senate to speak on the state senate floor in opposition to a bill that would have legally defined all born babies, including those who had survived an induced-labor abortion, as a “person.”

On Jan. 20, after a number of news organizations and blogs reported about and commented on Sen. Santorum's statement to CNSNews.com about President Obama and abortion, Santorum issued a statement elaborating on his view.

"For decades certain human beings were wrongly treated as property and denied liberty in America because they were not considered persons under the Constitution," Santorum said in this statement. "Today other human beings, the unborn of all races, are also wrongly treated as property and denied the right to life for the same reason; because they are not considered persons under the constitution. I am disappointed that President Obama, who rightfully fights for civil rights, refuses to recognize the civil rights of the unborn in this country.”

Here is an excerpt from the transcript of CNSNews.com’s interview with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.), in which Santorum discusses the natural law, the right to life, and his disagreement with President Obama on the issue:

Terry Jeffrey: Let’s go to another Founding Father, senator. Thomas Jefferson was the principle author of the Declaration of Independence, and about 50 years later when he was an old man he wrote a letter to a fellow Virginian, Henry Lee, explaining the Declaration of Independence, why he wrote it.

He said that one of the inspirations for the Declaration of Independence was the Roman senator Cicero. And Alexander Hamilton used Cicero’s middle name as a pseudonym at times—Tully--Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Russell Kirk, the great conservative, said that Cicero had more influence over the Founding Fathers than any other classical thinker.

Let me quote you what Cicero said about law. Cicero said: “There is a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commands urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil. Whether it enjoins or forbids, the good respect its injunctions, and the wicked treat them with indifference. This law cannot be controlled by any other law, and is not liable either to derogation or abrogation. Neither the senate nor the people can give us any dispensation for not obeying this universal law of justice. … It needs no other expositor and interpreter than our own conscience. It is not one thing at Rome and another at Athens; one thing today and another tomorrow; but in all times and nations this universal law must for ever reign, eternal and imperishable. It is sovereign master and emperor of all beings. God Himself is its author, its promulgator, its enforcer. He who obeys it not, flies from himself, and does violence to the very nature of man.” End quote.

Now, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton agreed with Cicero. Do you agree with Cicero?

Former Sen. Rick Santorum: Absolutely. I refer to it as the natural law, not the universal law, but the natural law--and it’s in the hearts of every man. But one of the things I talk about--in fact, I gave a speech in Houston in September where it was the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's speech in Houston to the Houston Ministerial Association. It was a couple months before his election in 1960. He went out and said he wasn't going to be the Pope's puppet as president--because there was a concern at the time that this Catholic would be a papist and that somehow the Catholics would have this Cabal that would run the United States of America.

But what Kennedy did there was he didn't just divorce himself from the Pope, he basically threw religion under the bus, and basically said that--this is his term--he said: I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. Well, that's not America, never has been America. It's France, it's Turkey, but it's not America.

And what Cicero is referring to is really that--which is there are two laws. There's the secular law, there's man made laws, and then there's a higher law, there's the sacred law, the universal law, the natural law, that we learn in America by and large through faith, through the moral code that faith teaches, but that is discernable through the philosophers, too, through right reason. And that law sits over the secular law, and is one that we have to achieve. So that when we had slavery in this country, slavery did not conform to the natural law, and as a result there was agitation, always. Abortion doesn't conform to the natural law. Why? Because we don't—all life should be respected. And so this agitation of having secular laws inconsistent with the natural law is something that we've dealt with in America from its very founding. But we have to recognize that there is a place for the articulation of the sacred law, or the natural law, or the universal law, and that they need to be in the public square and they need to be involved in the political discourse because there are moral components to every single law we pass.

Jeffrey: Dr. Martin Luther King, when he was thrown in the Birmingham jail--

Santorum: I quoted it in my speech! Yeah.

Jeffrey: In 1963, on Good Friday, wrote his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” And in that he cited two Roman Catholic saints, Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas, saying that a just law is a law that comports with the natural law or the law of God and an unjust law is one that doesn't, and the reason that the segregation laws of the South were unjust is because they violated the natural God-given law. Do you agree with Martin Luther King?

Santorum: Absolutely. I quoted it in my speech. In fact, I read the entire quote. And I believe--the call in my speech was for what Madison referred to as the perfect remedy. In essence what freedom of conscience is all about, what you are talking about is all about, is how do we live with our differences? If you think about it, America is unique in the sense that we have people coming from very disparate backgrounds, very different points of view, and yet we have a equanimity here in America. We always figure out a way to sort of work things out in America. Why? Why does someone from Serbia and someone from Croatia--that if they lived in the Balkans would be at each others throats--move next door to each other in Cleveland and are on the PTA together and get along. How does that work? Well it works because America is different. It's Madison perfect remedy, which is a vibrant, active, inclusive public square. Everybody's allowed in. People of faith, people of non-faith, and you can make your claims, you can argue your point, and then you can let the discourse decide. You don't have the elite, the planners, the smart people saying, no, this is how we are going to do things. And if the sacred law and secular the law don't match up--as the Supreme Court has done now on numerous occasions, whether its marriage or abortion, or a whole host of other issues--they've sort of pulled that discussion, that perfect remedy, and pulled the plug on it, and said, no, we're going to impose our remedy, an imperfect one, based upon the elites of our culture.

Jeffrey: All right, let's talk in specific terms about how this natural God-given law that is at the foundation of our country plays into current concrete issues. We asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi--I think I mentioned it to you earlier--this past summer whether she believed Jesus had a right to life from the moment of conception. What's your--Did Jesus have a right to life from the moment of conception?

Santorum: Every person, every child conceived in the womb has a right to life from the moment of conception. Why? Because they are human, genetically human, at the moment of conception. They have the same genetic composition as you and I do from that moment on. And it's alive. So it is human, by genetic, and it is alive, so it's a human life. So the question is, not whether this is a human life. When Barack Obama is asked, you know, is a child in the womb a human life? 'Oh, well, that's above my pay grade.' Just about everything else in the world he's willing to do, to have the government do, but he can't answer that basic question, which is not a debatable issue at all. I don't think you'll find a biologist in the world who will say that that is not a human life. The question is--and this is what Barack Obama didn't want to answer--is that human life a person under the Constitution? And Barack Obama says no. Well, if that person, human life, is not a person, then I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say, no, we are going to decide who are people and who are not people.

Jeffrey: This is apropos, senator, of language that's been in the Republican National Platform since 1984. It was put there under President Ronald Reagan, who very much believed in it. There's been fight over this language virtually every convention since then. It says: “Faithful to the first guarantee of the Declaration of Independence, we assert the inherent dignity and sanctity of all human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion and will not fund organizations which advocate it. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity and dignity of innocent human life.”

First of all, do you agree with that plank?

Santorum: I do, and we should keep it the same. And, as you know, there's probably no one who went out and fought on the judges issue in the Senate more than I did. And I fought and made it an important issue. Prior to my involvement in the Republican leadership, if you recall, the Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown and the whole bunch of others, and then eventually Supreme Court nominees, we as Republicans, basically, we were out to lunch on judges. We didn't understand how important they were, and the fact that they did not have respect for the Constitution and did not have respect for how the Declaration and how our founding rights were inculcated into that Constitution. And I fought for those things and I will continue to do so in the future.

Jeffrey: The plank calls for legislation make clear the 14th Amendment rights apply to the unborn child. You were talking about President Obama did not want to recognize the personhood of an unborn child. That specific language says that an unborn child is a person.

Santorum: In fact, there are as you know movements now in the states, personhood movements in the states to try to get that very language included in the states.

Jeffrey: And you support that?

Santorum: Yeah.

Jeffrey: All right. Now, some people would argue, some pragmatists would argue, that a child conceived through rape or incest, is that a person?

Santorum: Yes.

Jeffrey: So a child conceived through rape or incest has equal protection of the law?

Santorum: A child is a child. I mean, to do violence to a child because of the way that that baby was conceived--I understand, look, I--

Jeffrey: That child deserves the same protection from the state as a child conceived by a married couple?

Santorum: It's about the child. Okay. And I understand that there are obviously horrible consequences of dealing with the psychological and physical ramifications of rape and incest. But, again, we have to--I did this for my debates on the floor of the Senate with partial birth abortion, which, as you know, I led the charge on for many years. And, one of the most important aspects of that legislation was not that it was going to be a huge pro-life victory and that we were going to save millions of babies because of banning this procedure, which ultimately, we did. But that debate focused America on something that for a long time they had been lied to about. Which is: that blob of tissue in the womb is a little baby. And with a partial-birth abortion, when the baby is twenty weeks old, you can't miss the baby. I mean, the baby is being extracted from the womb alive, you know, arms, legs, toes, fingers, fingernails--as the movie Juno pointed out—and then is executed. So, that moment that we had in the late nineties changed the debate in America. For the first time since Roe vs. Wade attitudes on abortions began to change. Young people who grew up during that era have a very different view of abortion as a result of that. Why? Because we are now--through sonograms--recognizing the humanity of the child in the womb. And it's not that we don't care about mothers. We certainly--it's a tragic, horrible situation with rape and incest. But, we need to deal with the mother and all mothers, not just rape and incest, but all mothers who are going through an unwanted pregnancy, in a compassionate and caring way and as supportive a way as possible. But we can't lose sight of the fact that there is another human being involved.

Jeffrey: So, you think we are on our way to winning the fight for life in the United States?

Santorum: I don't think that there is any question if you look at attitudes of young people. Look, Gen Y is a very visual generation. And you go to that screen, and you look, go by their own refrigerator, and they'll see the picture of them when they were six weeks old. And you can say: Well, that’s not a person. Well, that's me. Yeah, that's a person. You can't say that abortion is okay. It's not okay, because that could be me. In fact, people today--and don't know how much, I'm not a Gen Y person--but I don't know how many people today sitting in the classroom in college look around and say, you know, there's one third of the people who should be here aren't here because of abortion.