The 50th Anniversary of JFK's Speech on Religion and Politics

From Scott’s Catholicism Blog on

On September 12, 1960, Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy addressed the Greater Houston Ministerial Association at the Rice Hotel in Houston, Texas


Senator Kennedy’s speech has long been credited with ensuring his victory in November 1960. But it also ushered in a new era in Church-state relations in the United States, and 50 years later critics, both Catholic and Protestant, have argued that the increasing marginalization of religion in American public life can be traced, in significant part, back to September 12, 1960.

This piece is interesting. I’ve never followed American politics closely but this was a bit of an ‘eye opener’.

Any comments?

From his speech:

Whatever issue may come before me as President—on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject—I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest…

But if the time should ever come…when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.

The key here is that (I would assume) his conscience was still formed by genuine Catholicism, not by post-60’s watered-down (or if you will, radicalized) “Catholicism.” Besides that, when he was speaking, American society in general was still operating under what Richard John Neuhaus would describe as a broadly “Judaeo-Christian ethos.”

There was a discussion once on EWTN about how warped the Kennedy mindest was - their inability to serve the public and retain Catholic values (particularly toward abortion).

They mentioned JFK’s speech:

“[C]ontrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters–and the church does not speak for me.”

Scorecard of Catholics in Congress:

I was shocked at the marked difference between how a Catholic Democrat votes on abortion and how a Catholic Republican votes.

President Kennedy understood his responsibilities. In that time period, the country was proud of its Judeo-Christian heritage. A Nativity in front of the local City Hall did not bring ACLU threats. We were told, by the Federal Government, that we are in engaged in a struggle with Godless Communism.

At the time, people said he would get orders from the Pope about running the country. After his assassination, the reaction of the public, black and white, and the international reaction, showed the love and respect held for the government at the time and for this man.

God bless,

In 1960 there remained a good deal of anti-Catholic sentiment in the country. Many non-Catholic Democrats who would normally have voted Democratic without a thought, simply could not envision themselves voting a Catholic into the White House. Kennedy needed that bloc of votes, and was required to sort of grovel to the Houston Ministerial Association to get it. No non-Catholic candidate would ever have been required to make such a speech. (There were at that time no serious non-Christian candidates, but they might have had to do the same.)

Kennedy was a cultural Catholic rather than a committed one, there was no chance of the nation being threatened by him taking his religion too seriously. Still, this speech was the beginning of the forced shedding of a Christian conscience by anyone deciding to enter politics. Indeed, in the current political climate, anyone taking Catholic or even traditional Christian moral doctrine seriously is considered a right wing extremist.

I think too much is being made of this. The 1963 White House Christmas card featured a color photo of the Nativity in the East Room of the White House.

And what does anyone think would have been said today? Favoring one religion over the other in the White House?

Choose Jesus,

Keith Olbermann would be having an on-air conniption fit.

originally posted by JimG
Kennedy was a cultural Catholic rather than a committed one, there was no chance of the nation being threatened by him taking his religion too seriously.

This is true. I remember that time well.
However, his brother Bobby WAS a committed Catholic (unfounded vicious gossip aside) and I’ve often wondered how the country would have progressed, or not, had he lived and been elected to the office. :shrug:

This is a really good summary. To restate in a different way, this was when “separation of church and state” began to mean no influence of the church upon the state, than the other way around.

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