Religion's still at the center of politics

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In this Jan. 16, 2012 file photo, Republican

In this Jan. 16, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum, left, counters Mitt Romney during the South Carolina Republican presidential debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Photo Credit: AP

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Ellis Henican Newsday columnist Ellis Henican

Henican is a columnist for Newsday. He also is a political analyst at the Fox News Channel and

Things don't change much in the battle for the American soul.

One day, Roger Williams is debating John Winthrop, Puritan preacher against Puritan governor, over the proper distance between religion and government.

The next -- or 400 years later -- Rick Santorum is warning about a "war on religion," Mitt Romney is trying to make Mormonism more mainstream, and one in three Americans are still convinced Barack Obama is a secret Muslim.

Church and state aren't even close to being separate, whatever the Constitution may say.

This is a special, spiritual weekend. Jews commemorate Passover. Christians celebrate Easter. And the 2012 race for president is entering a whole new phase. Republicans all but have their nominee now. The president is sounding like a candidate again. Religion remains easily at the center of politics.

In a fascinating new book, "Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty," John M. Barry shows how key this debate is to the very idea of America.

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Williams won that argument, we've always been told. His notion of America as a land of a free will and secular authority is enshrined in our founding documents and taught in our classrooms. But as the book reveals so vividly, the debate has never really ended. It just keeps coming back.

A brilliant journalist and historian, Barry isn't out on the campaign trail this year. But he might as well. He's predicted many of the most interesting clashes, planted even before America was born.

Chag sameach.

Happy Easter.

Enjoy the campaign.



1. "THESE are your best candidates?"

2. "Have you ever READ the Constitution?"

3. "It costs HOW MUCH to run?"

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4. "Anyone still believe in FIRST PRINCIPLES?"

5."Life, liberty and pursuit of constant ACRIMONY!"

ASKED AND UNANSWERED: Brown water, black mold and human waste bubbling up from the drains? Six former and current inmates have filed federal lawsuits and the New York Civil Liberties Union has been called in. The Suffolk sheriff's office has denied the claims . . . Where are Fluffy and Cutie supposed to go now that Great Neck village has told the Basals "no live chickens" in Great Neck? Apparently dead ones are still OK on local restaurants' plates . . . Now that JetBlue has blown us off, is Air Canada ISP's next dream date? . . . Doesn't anyone know what a Montauk alley is worth? Official appraisals range from $22,500 to $184,000 for the narrow town-owned strip that bisects the old Ronjo Motel.

THE NEWS IN SONG: Praise be: Rufus Wainwright, "Hallelujah,"


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Forget the angry rhetoric. Forget the Washington funding battles. Forget all the finger-pointing on the campaign trail. Planned Parenthood of Nassau County is providing just the kind of reproductive-health services it always has, now even more conveniently: Free screenings for sexually transmitted diseases, and you don't have even go inside. This month, the blue Plan Van will be parked right outside the local Planned Parenthood clinics, part of a national Get Yourself Tested campaign aimed especially at young people. Monday, April 9, 12-3 p.m., 35 Carmans Rd., Massapequa. Wednesday, April 18, 1-4 p.m., 110 School St., Glen Cove. Wednesday, April 25, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 540 Fulton Ave., Hempstead. No appointment necessary. Just show up and beat those nasty bugs.

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