JFK Had the Right Idea

Wall CatI stumbled upon a transcript on the National Public Radio site awhile-back. It was a speech made by John F. Kennedy in 1960, given to a group of Protestant ministers a few months before the election. JFK was a devout Catholic, but he was also had a solid understanding of the separation of church and state; this speech has some excellent excerpts that exemplify this. JFK was the first Catholic elected president, and during the elections other religious groups (primarily the Protestant group) were concerned about rumors that he would send an ambassador to the Vatican and be taking direction from the Pope. As it turned-out, it was Reagan who established the first ambassador to the Vatican in 1984.

John F. Kennedy, Sept 12, 1960So 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 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.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

If only politicians today would take this view, instead of attacking that wall of separation.

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of presidency in which I believe — a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group, nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

Truly he was a politician who understood the founding of our county; for although beliefs of our founding fathers may have varied, they knew that the success of the nation depended upon religious freedom, and to have religious freedom you must have separation of church and state.

You can find the full speech transcript on NPR’s site.

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