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Houston Ministerial Association Address-John F. Kennedy
04-04-2014, 01:45 PM
Post: #1
Houston Ministerial Association Address-John F. Kennedy

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John F. Kennedy: Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association

Reverend Meza, Reverend Reck, I'm grateful for your generous invitation to state my views.
While the socalled
religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I
want to emphasize from the outset that I believe that we have far more critical issues in the
1960 campaign? the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers only 90 miles from
the coast of Florida the
humiliating treatment of our President and Vice President by those
who no longer respect our power the
hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people
who cannot pay their doctors bills, the families forced to give up their farms an
with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space. These
are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues for
war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barrier.
But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues
in this campaign have been obscured perhaps
deliberately, in some quarters less
responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again not
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 accept 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.
For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in
other years it has been and
may someday be again a
Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or
a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to
Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be
you until
the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great
national peril.
Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end, where all men
and all churches are treated as equals, where every man has the same right to attend or not
to attend the church of his choice, where there is no Catholic vote, no antiCatholic
vote, no
bloc voting of any kind, and where Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, at both the lay and the
pastoral levels, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often
marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.
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 be neither humbled by making it the instrument of
any religious group nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding it its
occupancy from the
members of any one religious group. I believe in a President whose views on religion are his
own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon
him as a condition to holding that office.
I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the first amendment's
guarantees of religious liberty? nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do
so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the
Constitution by requiring a religious test, even by indirection. For if they disagree with that
safeguard, they should be openly working to repeal it.
I want a Chief Executive whose public acts are responsible to all and obligated to none, who
can attend any ceremony, service, or dinner his office may appropriately require of him to
fulfill? and whose fulfillment of his Presidential office is not limited or conditioned by any
religious oath, ritual, or obligation.
This is the kind of America I believe in and
this is the kind of America I fought for in the
South Pacific, and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we
might have a divided loyalty, that we did not believe in liberty, or that we belonged to a
disloyal group that threatened I
quote "
the freedoms for which our forefathers died."

And in fact this is the kind of America for which our forefathers did die when they fled here to
escape religious test oaths that denied office to members of less favored churches when
they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom and
when they fought at the shrine I visited today, the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and
Crockett died Fuentes, and McCafferty, and Bailey, and Badillo, and Carey but
no one
knows whether they were Catholics or not, for there was no religious test there.
I ask you tonight to follow in that tradition to
judge me on the basis of 14 years in the
Congress, on my declared stands against an Ambassador to the Vatican, against
unconstitutional aid to parochial schools, and against any boycott of the public schools which
I attended myself. And instead of doing this, do not judge me on the basis of these
pamphlets and publications we all have seen that carefully select quotations out of context
from the statements of Catholic church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other
centuries, and rarely relevant to any situation here. And always omitting, of course, the
statement of the American Bishops in 1948 which strongly endorsed ChurchState
and which more nearly reflects the views of almost every American Catholic.
I do not consider these other quotations binding upon my public acts. Why should you?
But let me say, with respect to other countries, that I am wholly opposed to the State being
used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit, or prosecute the free
exercise of any other religion. And that goes for any persecution, at any time, by anyone, in
any country. And I hope that you and I condemn with equal fervor those nations which deny
their Presidency to Protestants, and those which deny it to Catholics. And rather than cite the
misdeeds of those who differ, I would also cite the record of the Catholic Church in such
nations as France and Ireland, and the independence of such statesmen as De Gaulle and
But let me stress again that these are my views.
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.
But if the time should ever come and
I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible when
my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national
interest, then I would resign the office? and I hope any conscientious public servant would do

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But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant
faith? nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.
If I should lose on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate, satisfied that I'd
tried my best and was fairly judged.
But if this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being
President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser, in
the eyes of Catholics and nonCatholics
around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the
eyes of our own people.
But if, on the other hand, I should win this election, then I shall devote every effort of mind
and spirit to fulfilling the oath of the Presidency practically
identical, I might add, with the
oath I have taken for 14 years in the Congress. For without reservation, I can, “solemnly
swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the
best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution so
help me God.”
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