American Atheists President Ellen Johnson has posted a fantastic monologue about Faith in Politics and John F. Kennedy. I’ve transcribed the speech below. I feel that it would be important to spread the transcript and/or video as much as possible, especially in the coming year. She poses the question “Would JFK be electable today with his stance in the issue of the separation of church and state?”
Here is the full transcript:
Welcome, and thanks for visting the American Atheists Web site. I’m Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists. By the time you see this video, the Iowa caucuses will be history. We still have 11 months to go until the 2008 Presidential Election, and odds are, that even right after the New Hampshire and Michigan primaries, we still won’t have a clear fix on who will be the nominees for Republican and Democratic Parties. One thing is for sure, however; religion and religious faith are playing a disproportionately large element in the race for the White House. And nearly all of the candidates feel the pressure to declare religious belief as a credential for public office.
Surveys indicate that the overwhelming majority of voters are mostly concerned about issues like: the budget deficit, war in Iraq and healthcare. A small but well organized coterie of evangelicals though, exercise a disproportionate amount of influence — especially inside the Republican Party. They vote, and they vote as a block. They’re well organized and when they vote, it’s not the Constitution or secular policies that guide their decisions. They’re convinced that America was, or is, or should be, a so-called “Christian nation” where the Bible is a template for how government and society should operate. We can all learn a lesson from their organizational skills and commitment to their cause.
Could John F. Kennedy be elected President of the United States today? It’s doubtful, given the current theo-political climate. Back in 1960, when JFK won the Democratic nomination for President, religion was a major campaign issue. Kennedy was a Roman Catholic and no Catholic up to that point had been elected to the White House. And in 1960, people were wondering if Kennedy’s Roman Catholicism somehow compromised his ability to serve the United States over the Vatican.
John F. Kennedy was one of the few Presidential Candidates who openly and proudly enunciated his support for the separation of church and state. Today that is almost a taboo phrase, “separation of church and state.” Mitt Romney uses it occasionally — so does Reverend Mike Huckabee. Ron Paul doesn’t even think that it should exist! He says, “The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of the founding fathers.”
Most candidates today repeat the myth that the separation of church and state is not in our Constitution or that its a legal fiction or that it simply means that the government cannot tamper in the affairs of religion. But all of those claims are simply wrong. It’s true that the words “separation of church and state” are not found in the Constitution, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not part of our legal code. The words are an interpretation of what the Establishment Clause means. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, which is the free exercise clause. And it guarantees our freedom from imposed or government compelled religion. That’s the Establishment Clause. Our courts have been consistent over the past 50 to 60 years that the First Amendment was intended to erect a wall of separation between state and church.
Unlike Huckabee and Romney and other candidates who want to showcase their religious beliefs as a credential for public office, John F. Kennedy embraced both elements of the First Amendment. He supported the right of people to believe in and practice their faith, so in long as those beliefs were not forced on other people. He also enunciated the principle that the state should not serve the church — any church — including his own. He opposed the official diplomatic recognition of the Vatican, complete with ambassadorial exchanges, fearing that it was unconstitutional and gave his own church too much power. Kennedy declared that if elected to the Presidency, he would put the Constitution first — not private religious beliefs. He also sent a clear message to the Catholic hierarchy that they should not interfere in the political affairs of the United States. Wherever Kennedy went, he was hounded by ads, picket signs and charges that he was a stalking horse for Roman Catholicism. Most of these accusations came from Protestant groups. So Kennedy, true to his style and principles, confronted his accusers during an historic appearance before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association at the Rice Hotel in Houston, TX on September the 12th, 1960. Let me read you some of the quotes from his speech and then ask yourself if any candidate today would have the guts to stand up for these principles.
He began his talk to over 600 Protestant ministers by say that there were “far more critical issues than religion.” He said, “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; and America with too many slums, too few schools and too late to the moon and outer space.” And he said, “They 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 barriers.”
Kennedy blamed religious sectarianism, especially the obsessive focus on his private Catholicism, as being responsible for obscuring what he called “the real issues” of his campaign. And just minutes into his talk, he put it all on the line. He said, “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 a 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.”
Kennedy’s enlightened vision of a secular America — a polity free from religious dogma — is like night and day compared to our current political climate. I particularly like these following quotes from JFK.
“Whatever issue may come before me as President 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 the national interest and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power, nor 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.”
We’ve come a long way since the 1960 campaign and yes, there has been progress in defending separation of church and state thanks to groups like American Atheists. But we need to work very hard to make the politicians aware that a quarter of the United States population are not religious. We are a huge voting block. If we non-religious Americans make our issues our primary concern on election day, then we can make our voting power work for us.
Vote your atheism first, and together we can enlighten the vote. Thank you for visiting our Web site, I’m Ellen Johnson.
In reading the recent discussions that Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain had with beliefnet.com, I found something that made me laugh while simultaneously throwing up my pop tarts.
Of all the tacky, no-good, cheap tricks that the religious right could pull, now we’ve got a meter to tell us how godly these folks are. I’m sure you’ll notice the separation of blue and red. “God” forbid they would place a Republican on the wrong side of the God-O-Meter. This seriously makes me vomit.
A newly released Gallup Poll report suggests “religion will play a part in both the primary elections of both the Republicans and Democrats but in the general election as well.” America responded to the results with a collective, “No Shit, Sherlock.”
When it comes to the Republican primaries, the voter choice for a candidate is heavily influenced by the frequency with which they attend religious services. The results come from polling both Republicans and those leaning toward Republicans. It also includes potential candidates as well as some who have backed out.
First of all, they asked who the voters would support in general: Rudy Giuliani 29%, Fred Thompson 19%, John McCain 17%, Mitt Romney 8%, Newt Gingrich 7%, Mike Huckabee 2%, Ron Paul 2%, Duncan Hunter 2%, Sam Brownback 2%, Tommy Thompson 1%, Chuck Hagel 1%, Tom Tancredo 1%, Jim Gilmore less that half a percent, Other/none/no opinion 10% Total polled, 1,204
Of those who attend church regularly, every week: Rudy Giuliani 24%, Fred Thompson 20%, John McCain 16%, Mitt Romney 8%, Newt Gingrich 7%, Mike Huckabee 3%, Ron Paul 1%, Duncan Hunter 1%, Sam Brownback, 3%, Tommy Thompson 2%, Chuck Hagel 1%, Tom Tancredo 1%, Jim Gilmore less that half a percent, Other/none/no opinion 13%. Total respondents 480
Of those who attend almost regularly or monthly, Rudy Giuliani 32%, Fred Thompson 21%, John McCain 15%, Mitt Romney, 8%, Newt Gingrich 8%, Mike Huckabee 2%, Ron Paul, less that a half of a percent, Duncan Hunter 1%, Sam Brownback 2%, Tommy Thompson 1%, Chuck Hagel 2%, Tom Tancredo 1%, Jim Gilmore 1%, Other/none/no opinion 6%. Total respondents 294
Of those who attend services seldom or never Rudy Giuliani 33%, Fred Thompson 18%, John McCain 18%, Mitt Romney 8%, Newt Gingrich 6%, Mike Huckabee 2%, Ron Paul 3%, Duncan Hunter 2%, Sam Brownback less than half a percent, Tommy Thompson 1% Chuck Hagel less than half a percent, Tom Tancredo 1%, Jim Gilmore less than half a percent.
The percentage is pretty much the same across the board with the exception of the overall leader, Rudy Giuliani who gets most of his support from those who go to church less frequently.
On the Democratic primary side, the results are very different.
The results from the total polled are Hillary Clinton 35%, Barack Obama 22%, Al Gore 17%, John Edwards 11%, Bill Richardson 4%, Joe Biden 3%, Dennis Kucinich 2%, Mike Gravel 1%, Christopher Dodd 1%, Other/none/no opinion 6% Total polled 1,515
Of those who attend services weekly, Hillary Clinton 39%, Barack Obama 24%, Al Gore 13%, John Edwards 10%, Bill Richardson 2%, Joe Biden 2%, Dennis Kucinich 1%, Mike Gravel less than half a percent, Christopher Dodd less than half a percent, Other/none/no opinion 8%. Total polled, 364.
Of those who attend rarely or monthly, Hillary Clinton 34%, Barack Obama 26%, Al Gore 13%, John Edwards 14%, Bill Richardson 3%, Joe Biden 4%, Dennis Kucinich 1%, Mike Gravel less than half a percent, Christopher Dodd 1%, Other/none/no opinion 5%, Total polled 325.
Of those who attend seldom or never, Hillary Clinton 32%, Barack Obama 20%, Al Gore 20%, John Edwards 11%, Bill Richardson 5%, Joe Biden 2%, Dennis Kucinich 2%, Mike Gravel 1%, Christopher Dodd 1%, Other/none/no opinion 6%. Total polled, 794.
In related news, Fred Thompson is said to be courting religious leaders in an effort to secure their support before announcing his run for the 08 Republican nomination. Thompson is a mildly moderate religious man at best. He barely goes to church. Yet, because he does not publicly support abortion like Giuliani and is not a Mormon like Romney, the religious leaders will probably entertain his interests before the other republican front-runners. Is it interesting that Thompson is a front runner before even having announced an official run?
My claim is that if Romney weren’t a Mormon, Thompson would have declared his run by now. The only reason Thompson hasn’t officially entered the race by now is because there’s a weak point with every other Republican candidate that’s keeping them from being a clear front-runner. If Romney weren’t a Mormon, he’d have the support of the majority of Republicans and Thompson would view him as more serious competition. That’s my opinion, of course.
Back to the gallup poll, the AP story concludes:
Next they take a look at how this equates in a Presidential race between the two leaders, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. Giuliani wins with the ones who attends weekly, 61-34%, in the weekly or monthly group he also wins with 64-31%. In the seldom or never group, Senator Clinton wins 49 to 46%.
The Bush Administration has proven its disregard for un-religious Americans by blatantly promoting religion with taxpayer money. Stephen Marsh, a somewhat awkward young man from California asked the Candidates on Sunday during the CNN/YouTube Debate if they will treat non-religious Americans any differently.
Am I wrong in fearing a Democratic Administration that may pay lip service to the extremely religious as much as the current one?
John Edwards answered:
As President of the United States, we will embrace and lift up all Americans, whatever their faith beliefs or whether they have no faith belief as Stephen just spoke about. That’s what America is. Now, my faith is enormously important to me personally — it’s gotten me through some hard times, as I’m sure that’s true of a lot of the candidates who are on this stage. But, it is crucial that the American people know that as President, it will not be my job, and I believe it would be wrong, for me to impose my personal faith beliefs on the American people, or to decide any kind of decision — policy decision — that will affect America on the basis of my personal faith beliefs. (applause)
Barack Obama answered:
I am proud of my Christian faith, and it informs what I do, and I don’t think that people of any faith background should be prohibited from debating in the public square. But I am a strong believer in the separation of church and state (applause) and I think that we’ve got to translate — by the way, I support it not just for the state, but also for the church — because that maintains our religious independence and that’s why we have such a thriving religious life, but what I also think is that we are under obligation in public life to translate our moral va- our religious values into moral terms that all people can share including those who are not believers and that is how our democracy’s functioning, will continue to function and that’s what the founding fathers intended.
See the video:
The John Edwards answer is good, but not true. He has made his decision on Gay Marriage based on his personal faith beliefs and will use his beliefs to make other decisions. If you truly lead your life by your faith beliefs as I’m sure all of these candidates will attest, you use those beliefs to make your daily decisions.
I didn’t really like Obama’s answer. Why is there constantly a notion that moral values can not be attained through anything except religion? Surely he understands that religion prescribes certain values that not all people share, especially in relation to some modern social issues. Through his method of using religion to guide morality for the nation, we’ve seen such travesties as the blocking of the HPV vaccine, stem cell research funding, and an extremely heated abortion debate that has raged for decades. I believe Obama is saying that you’ve got to take these religious beliefs and translate them into a greatest common denominator that all of the American people will accept — but if that’s true – why do the moral beliefs have to begin with religion in the first place?
In the CNN/YouTube Debate last night, Rev. Reggie Longcrier confronted John Edwards about his opposition to Gay Marriage and how it was influenced by his religion. Watch:
First of all – great question! John Edwards answered by saying his religious beliefs would be independent from the policy he makes. But by opposing gay marriage and citing his religious beliefs as the reason, he’s already proven that to be a lie.