Monday, February 27, 2012

Kennedy, Religion and Politics

Kennedy, Religions and Politics
February 27, 2012
P. Schultz

Below is a quote from a speech John F. Kennedy gave while running for the presidency in 1960, on September 12th to be exact. Recently, Rick Santorum has come under fire for criticizing JFK’s views on the separation of church and state, that is, the separation of religion and politics. In one fact check column, it was argued that Santorum attributed things to Kennedy that he did not say. But regardless of the details or the words Kennedy said, it is clear from the following that Kennedy had a very different view of the separation of church and state than Santorum and other “conservatives” today.

Kennedy, Sept. 12, 1960: 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.

Note well that Kennedy said that he favored an America where “no church or church school is granted any public funds….” There are not too many today who would favor such an arrangement as this. And note he also argued that he preferred an America where priests did not tell presidents how to act or, it seems analogous, tell parishioners how to vote. And he did say that the separation should “absolute.”

So, perhaps Santorum did not quite get Kennedy right, but he and Kennedy are definitely not “on the same page” when it comes to their respective understandings of the separation of church and state.

One provision in the Constitution that is too often overlooked: "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." So, from the viewpoint of the Constitution, religion is irrelevant when it comes to being qualified to hold any office or trust "under the United States." Or to put this a bit differently: When it comes to exercising official power in the United States, one's religion, including whether one is religious or not, is irrelevant.

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