Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said on Sunday that former President John F. Kennedy's commitment to the separation of church and state made him "throw up."
In a 1960 speech, Kennedy had assured Southern Baptist leaders that as the nation's first Catholic president, he would not take orders from the Pope.
"But because I am a Catholic and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured -- perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this," Kennedy said. "So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again -- not what kind of church I believe in for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in."
"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference -- and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him," he explained.
On Sunday, ABC host George Stephanopoulos asked Santorum, who is also Catholic, about his claim last year that Kennedy's words made him inclined to vomit.
"I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," Santorum remarked. "The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country."
"Kennedy for the first time, articulated a vision that said, 'No, faith is not allowed in the public square. I will keep it separate,'" the candidate claimed. "Go out and read the speech. 'I will have nothing to do with faith. I won't consult with people of faith.' It was an absolutist doctrine that was foreign at the time of 1960."
"But make you want to throw up?" Stephanopoulos pressed.
"Absolutely!" Santorum exclaimed. "To say people of faith have no role in the public square, you bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live in that says only people of non-faith can come in the public square and make their case."
"That makes me throw up and it should make every American," he insisted.
But Kennedy's niece, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, responded to a similar 2010 attack by half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) by explaining that critics had mischaracterized her uncle.
"America's first and only Catholic president referred to God three times in his inaugural address and invoked the Bible's command to care for poor and the sick," she wrote for The Washington Post. "Later in his presidency, he said, unequivocally, about civil rights: 'We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.'"
"John F. Kennedy knew that tearing down the wall separating church and state would tempt us toward self-righteousness and contempt for others. That is one reason he delivered his Houston speech."
Watch JFK's full speech here.