Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum doubled down on his religious rhetoric on Sunday, reiterating on two talk shows his criticism of a strict separation between church and state.

Appearing on ABC's This Week and NBC's Meet the Press, Santorum was asked about a speech in which he denounced President John F Kennedy's 1960 address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. Kennedy, America's first Catholic president, used the speech to dispel worries that his decisions would be dictated by the Vatican.

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 Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote, Kennedy said. He went on to defend the free exercise of religion, decrying religious intolerance and any president who would subvert the first amendment's guarantees of religious liberty.

Santorum seized upon the first point about separation of church and state, saying last September that after having read Kennedy's speech he almost threw up. He defended that view on Sunday, telling ABC's George Stephanopolous that attempting to exclude faith from the public square was abhorrent.

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, Santorum said, summarizing Kennedy's view as we're going to impose our values from the government on people of faith.

Santorum, a devout Catholic, has throughout his career couched his political beliefs in his faith. He has excoriated radical environmentalists who elevate the Earth above humanity and has joined other Republicans in attacking the Obama administration's mandate that religious institutions provide employee insurance plans that cover birth control.

It's not about contraception, Santorum said. It's about economic liberty; it's about freedom of speech; it's about freedom of religion. It's about government control of your lives and it's got to stop.

On Meet the Press, Santorum contended that the founding fathers envisioned a government in which politics and religion mingled, noting the role people of faith played in the abolitionist and civil rights movements, respectively.

We're seeing the Obama administration not only segregating faith but imposing the states' values now on churches, which is even a bigger affront to the First Amendment, Santorum said.

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