Kennedy delivered his eloquent remarks on September 12, 1960 to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, a group of Protestant ministers.
The Kind of America in which I Believe
Rev. Meza, Rev. Reck, I'm grateful for your generous invitation to speak my views.
While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election:
- the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers 90 miles off 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 doctor bills;
- the families forced to give up their farms; an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space.
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 what 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.
- that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts 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.
It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead 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 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 equal;
- where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice;
- where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind; and
- where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, 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.
I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or 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 it. If they disagree with that safeguard, they should be out openly working to repeal it.
A Chief Executive Responsible to All Groups
I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none; who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require of him; and whose fulfillment of his presidential oath 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 I fought for in the South Pacific, and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we may have a "divided loyalty," that we did "not believe in liberty," or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened the "freedoms for which our forefathers died."
And in fact, this is the kind of America for which our forefathers died...
- 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 and 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 McCafferty and Bailey and Carey. But no one knows whether they were Catholic or not, for there was no religious test at the Alamo.