What JFK really said about separating Church from State-Ch.Haynes



What JFK really said about separating church from state
the Washington Post 28.02.2012

John F. Kennedy’s address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960 — the speech that Rick Santorum says makes him “want to throw up” — was a turning point in American history.

By allaying long-standing Protestant fears about the prospect of a Roman Catholic in the White House, Kennedy paved the way for future Catholic candidates like, well, Rick Santorum, to run for national office. Rather than condemn Kennedy’s speech, perhaps Santorum should say “thank you.”

Senator John F. Kennedy answers questions put to him by clergymen of the Houston Ministerial Association in the Crystal Room of the Rice Hotel in Houston, Texas, September 12, 1960. (TED POWERS – AP)

Consider that in 1959, the year before Kennedy was elected as the first Catholic president, 25 percent of Americans said they would not vote for a Catholic, according to a Gallup poll. By August, 1961, that number had fallen to 13 percent. And today, public opposition to the prospect of a Catholic president is a mere seven percent.

Without Kennedy’s historic breakthrough, Santorum might well face today the kind of prejudice that still hobbles the candidacy of Mitt Romney, his chief rival for the nomination. Opposition to a Mormon president remains stubbornly high, with 22 percent of voters telling Gallup they would not support a Mormon for president – a percentage that has held steady since Gallup first measured this in 1967.

Santorum appears to be sickened by a speech that Kennedy never delivered. When pressed by George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week, Santorum said he rejects Kennedy’s argument for “absolute” separation of church and state because “to say that people of faith have no role in the public square, absolutely that makes me want to throw up.”

Following Santorum’s advice to “read the speech,” I am hard pressed to find anything in Kennedy’s definition of church-state separation that supports keeping people of faith out of the public square.

On the contrary, Kennedy did not back away from his Catholic faith, declaring that he would not “disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.” In the unlikely event that a conflict arose between following his conscience and following the national interest, Kennedy promised to “resign the office.”

Although Kennedy believed Americans are free to bring their faith into the public square, he warned against elected officials using the engine of government to impose their religion on the nation. This is the absolute separation of church and state that Kennedy endorsed in his speech – a separation that ensures government neutrality toward religion and religious autonomy from government:

“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.”

By taking his case directly to Protestant ministers – some of the most skeptical, if not hostile, voices challenging his candidacy – Kennedy sought to overcome the historic Protestant fear that a Catholic could never support separating church from state.

Contrary to Santorum’s reading of the speech, Kennedy articulated a vision of America where separating the institutions of church and state is the foundation of religious liberty. By ensuring that the government does not take sides in religion, the First Amendment levels the playing field for people of all faiths and none.

“I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end,” Kennedy told the ministers, “where all men and all churches are treated as equals, where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice, where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind…”

We are not there yet. But thanks to John Kennedy, we moved one step closer to the First Amendment vision of full religious freedom. For that, Rick Santorum – and all Americans – should be very grateful.

Charles C. Haynes is senior scholar at First Amendment Center and director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum.


1 Comment

  1. isabella nespoli ha detto:

    sul tema segnalo l’editoriale del settimanale cattolico inglese The Tablet
    From the editor’s desk
    Kennedy doctrine still stands
    3 March 2012

    The contest between an ultra-conservative ultra-Catholic on the one hand and a billionaire venture capitalist Mormon on the other is one of the most intriguing spectacles American politics has offered the world for some time. For instance, Democrats in Michigan campaigned for Republican Rick Santorum in the presidential primary elections, in the hope of maximising the damage his candidacy is doing to the party’s main contender, Mitt Romney.

    Mr Santorum’s Catholic credentials seem so far to have helped him win over hard-core conservative Evangelicals, where once they would have objected. But they may have trouble swallowing his repudiation of the “Kennedy doctrine” of the first Catholic president – that as a prospective Catholic incumbent of the White House, he believed in the absolute separation of Church and State, and so in practice he would not take orders from the Vatican.

    The Kennedy doctrine made him “want to throw up”, said Mr Santorum, who went on to give it an extreme construction far beyond what John F. Kennedy ever intended. President Kennedy, addressing Protestant church leaders, had been answering the charge that as a Catholic he would have divided loyalties and hence was unfit for office.

    Mr Santorum applies his own uncompromising version of Catholic teaching to many of the hot-button moral issues in America. He represents the reductio ad absurdum of some questionable, unexamined assumptions in this area. For instance, he opposes the sale of contraceptives, wants homosexual acts recriminalised and the same done for all abortion. He is also against offering a college education to all sections of American society, an idea he denounced as “snobbery”. But it is his rigid views on the relationship between church teaching and the criminal law which are likely to harm his cause most.

    Mr Santorum can claim to be doing just what the bishops wanted, for instance, when they demanded that Catholic legis­lators throw out the Obama health-care reforms because they deemed them contrary to Catholic teaching, or when some ­bishops told Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004 that he was not fit to receive Holy Communion because he was insufficiently opposed to abortion. This gave the impression that the bishops were trying to pull Catholic politicians’ strings.

    Their justification came from the 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae: “In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to … vote for it.” In Mr Santorum’s view, it seems, Catholic politicians must share in the guilt of every immoral act that they have not actually voted to make a criminal offence.

    Yet the framing of the criminal law calls par excellence for the exercise of prudential judgement, after honest debate as to what best serves human dignity and the common good. Speaking in Westminster Hall in 2010, Pope Benedict asked where moral norms were to come from, and declared: “The role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms – still less to propose concrete political solutions which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.”

    This analysis fully vindicates the Church’s participation in the public square. Mr Santorum’s approach, however, would rapidly discredit it.

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