JFK’s niece sets Sarah Palin straight on his famous speech about religion
When John F. Kennedy ran for president 50 years ago, one of the challenges he faced was a widespread fear that as a Catholic he would take his political marching orders from the Vatican.
Kennedy confronted the issue head-on with a now-famous speech before a group of Protestant clergymen at a meeting of the Greater Houston Ministerial Association (see photo) on Sept. 12, 1960.
Kennedy told the gathering:
“I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters — and the Church does not speak for me.”
He vowed to honor the constitutional principle of separation of church and state and not allow the Catholic hierarchy to dictate public policy to him.
But now, all these years later, putative presidential prospect Sarah Palin, writes in her new book that JFK’s speech was faulty in several respects. She thinks it was overly “defensive” and amounted to an effort to “run away from religion.”
In an OP-ED PIECE in The Washington Post, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the eldest of JFK’s nieces, takes issue with Palin’s slant on the speech.
Palin’s argument seems to challenge a great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, stipulating that there be no religious test for public office. A careful reading of her book leads me to conclude that Palin wishes for precisely such a test. And she seems to think that she, and those who think like her, are qualified to judge who would pass and who would not.
If there is no religious test, then there is no need for a candidate’s religious affiliation to be “reconciled.” My uncle urged that religion be private, removed from politics, because he feared that making faith an arena for public contention would lead American politics into ill-disguised religious warfare, with candidates tempted to use faith to manipulate voters and demean their opponents.