Different Candidate Responses on Religion

In a post over at Outside the Beltway, Doug Mataconis nods approvingly at John Kennedy’s speech in Houston in 1960 in which he spoke about his religion as an issue in his presidential campaign. Here’s the speech and here’s the section most frequently quoted:

For contrary 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. Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, 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 in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

As a contrast I want to draw your attention to Hilaire Belloc’s response to a similar question when he was running for Parliament. Belloc said:

Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day. This [taking a rosary out of his pocket] is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that he has spared me the indignity of being your representative.

Although Belloc’s response may strike one as being impolitic he was twice elected to parliament after giving that speech.

5 comments… add one
  • Dave,

    The difference, of course, is that Belloc was elected in a different country than Kennedy, specifically one whose traditions of religious tolerance toward Catholics weren’t exactly something to admire. The hostility between Anglicans and English Catholics brought about wars, beheadings, and, even today, conflict as “High Church” Anglicans are beginning to seriously consider pledging allegiance to Rome over what they perceive as the more liberal policies of the Church of England.

    Our traditions are different, and were different even in 1960 when Kennedy was still having to deal with silly questions like whether or not he would be taking daily orders from Pope John XXIII

  • Doug:

    Do you think that the U. S. history of tolerance towards Catholics was something to admire?

  • PD Shaw Link

    I prefer the Belloc quote, but Kennedy’s speech is alright though I can see how it was received with mixed feelings at the time (as I believe some Mormons felt about Romney’s speech). I was curious what Al Smith said, and apparently he ducked the question.

    But what I found amazing was that Smith did very well in the election across the fundamental protestant swath going from South Carolina to Arkansas. I guess anti-Republican bigotry trumps anti-Catholic bigotry.

  • steve Link

    It does not help when you have priests and bishops saying that they will not give communion to politicians who support abortion rights. Was it really illogical to think that someone might let fears of going to hell influence their decisions.


  • Dave,

    Fair point, although the bigotry against Catholics in the United States never quite reached the extent that it did in England. Additionally, and I think this is the ultimately point that Kennedy was making, our tradition of religious freedom and religious tolerance which began with the First Amendment, made it inevitable that we would treat these issues differently than others countries.

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