The New York-based Anti-Defamation League issued a friendly reminder to GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum Friday that Americans prefer to maintain their separation of church and state -- even when greeting candidates on the campaign trail.
The reminder came in response to the former Pennsylvania Senator's attempt last Thursday on a radio show to appeal to the Christian right, remarking "We always need a 'Jesus candidate.'"
ADL National Director Abraham Foxman was quick to issue a blunt warning to the Republican candidate that such a religious appeal could alienate voters of other faiths.
"Religious appeals to voters are simply unacceptable and unAmerican," Foxman said in a statement. "Voters should be encouraged to make their decisions based upon their assessment of the qualifications, integrity and political positions of candidates, not the intensity of their religious beliefs."
Foxman made it clear that he wasn't trying to tell Santorum to hide his own religious preference -- or for that matter, to tell any other candidate to do the same. Rather, he explained, "candidates should feel comfortable explaining their religious convictions to voters, but there is a point at which an emphasis on religion in a political campaign becomes inappropriate and even unsettling."
The issue came up after a caller on the program had commented, "We don't need a Jesus candidate -- we need an economic candidate."
Santorum, who is Roman Catholic, responded by saying, "We always need a Jesus candidate... We need someone who believes in something more than themselves and not just the economy."
Having lost in the Iowa caucus last week to his nearest competitor, Governor Mitt Romney -- a Mormon -- by just eight votes, Santorum is now being closely watched by political analysts.