Saturday, November 22, 2008

God & Country

Today is the 45th Anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of these United States.

In light of the increased tendency to commingle religion and politics in these times, it struck me that were Kennedy elected today, the religious issues facing his presidency would be extremely different than what he in fact confronted during his campaign for the presidency in 1960.

Kennedy was the first (and only) Catholic President. At that time, the fact that JFK was Catholic was a major issue. Anti-Catholic sentiment was prevalent. The concern was that the Pope would try to exert control over the decision-making by Kennedy in office. Like Obama, who didn't want to run as the black candidate, JFK certainly didn't want to be the Catholic candidate. Yet like Obama's speech on race at the National Constitution Center earlier this year here in Philly, JFK was forced to confront his faith. As noted at NPR (transcript & audio available):

On Sept. 12, 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy gave a major speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, a group of Protestant ministers, on the issue of his religion. At the time, many Protestants questioned whether Kennedy's Roman Catholic faith would allow him to make important national decisions as president independent of the church.
Interestingly, like those who couldn't overcome the fact of Obama's race, The New Republic observed that, "as a Catholic, Kennedy still faced formidable obstacles. A 1958 Gallup Poll found that 25 percent of Americans said they wouldn't vote for a Catholic." However, despite this, again echoing Obama's path, as TNR notes, Is Obama Al Smith or John F. Kennedy?:
In 1960, John Kennedy succeeded where [Al] Smith had failed, winning an extremely narrow victory against Richard Nixon. Kennedy's success is often attributed to his political skill, and to the way he addressed the Catholic question. And that was certainly a factor. Unlike Smith, Kennedy successfully reaffirmed his independence from Catholic dictates. He won the nomination by showing that he could win overwhelmingly Protestant West Virginia against Hubert Humphrey. He chose a Protestant as a running mate and as the head of the Democratic National Committee.
Had JFK been elected today, he may have instead faced a hostile Catholic Church, rather than a leery Protestant America. Abortion has been legal since Roe vs. Wade in 1973. Kennedy would have had to confront the Church's stance on abortion in light of his professed position that he would uphold the laws of the country, notwithstanding the Church's views to the contrary.

Had he held true to his campaign promises, no doubt, like Obama, JFK would have been subjected to the wrath of the Church, as was delivered during a speech at Catholic University, "We Will Know Gethsemane":
James Francis Cardinal Stafford criticized President-elect Barack Obama as “aggressive, disruptive and apocalyptic,“ and said he campaigned on an “extremist anti-life platform,” Thursday night in Keane Auditorium during his lecture “Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II: Being True in Body and Soul.“

“Because man is a sacred element of secular life,” Stafford remarked, “man should not be held to a supreme power of state, and a person’s life cannot ultimately be controlled by government.”

'For the next few years, Gethsemane will not be marginal. We will know that garden,” Stafford said, comparing America’s future with Obama as president to Jesus’ agony in the garden. “On November 4, 2008, America suffered a cultural earthquake.”
Catholics such as Joe Biden and Tom Daschle have been renounced -- if not excommunicated -- from the Church for not towing the Catholic line. See, e.g., Daschle: Half Full or Half Empty? and Bishops vs. Catholic Politicians.

Kennedy would certainly have suffered the same fate for expressing what should be the place of God and country -- separate.


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.

"It is my firm belief that there should be separation of church and state as we understand it in the United States -- that is, that both church and state should be free to operate, without interference from each other in their respective areas of jurisdiction. We live in a liberal, democratic society which embraces wide varieties of belief and disbelief. There is no doubt in my mind that the pluralism which has developed under our Constitution, providing as it does a framework within which diverse opinions can exist side by side and by their interaction enrich the whole, is the most ideal system yet devised by man. I cannot conceive of a set of circumstances which would lead me to a different conclusion." -- letter to Glenn L. Archer, 23 February 1959

See The religion of John F. Kennedy, 35th U.S. President

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