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.
Republican Presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, plans to talk about his religion in a speech entitled “Faith in America” on Thursday, CNN reports.
Romney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden, in a statement, says, “This speech is an opportunity for Governor Romney to share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor’s own faith would inform his presidency if he were elected. Governor Romney understands that faith is an important issue to many Americans, and he personally feels this moment is the right moment for him to share his views with the nation.”
I believe this will be a hit with middle-of-the road moderate voters and perhaps could leave far-right Christian voters cold as it further exposes his Mormonism, something they’ve been uneasy with from the start.
I’ve expressed in the past that I’ve like some of the things that Romney has said about religion – mainly that he doesn’t think it should be a factor in his run for Presidency. But with the same token, he has also stated that America should have someone of faith leading the country – obviously a statement that I disagree with.
In Boston.com’s Political Intelligence column, Foon Rhee reports that Republican hopeful, Mitt Romney would not invite a Muslim to be a part of his presidential cabinet.
Mansoor Ijaz, who describes himself as an American-born Muslim whose family came from Pakistan, writes in an opinion piece in today’s Christian Science Monitor that he attended a private fund-raiser this month for Romney in Las Vegas. Ijaz says he asked Romney whether he would consider a Muslim for a national security post in his Cabinet, since he says radical jihad is the biggest threat facing America.
According to Ijaz, Romney said that based on the proportion of Muslims in the US population, a Cabinet post would not be “justified,” though he could “imagine” Muslims serving in lower-level jobs in his administration.
Of course its a ridiculous idea that a presidential candidate would ever consider having equal amounts of all religions represented in his cabinet. And Romney states something to that effect:
“Suggesting that we have to fill spots based on checking off boxes of various ethnic groups is really a very inappropriate way to think about we staff positions,” he said.
But the truth is, this isn’t about INCLUDING people, it’s about EXCLUDING people. The idea that he would discount a person based on their Muslim faith is pretty much a dead give away to how he feels about other Muslim Americans. And if he feels that way about Muslim Americans, how does he feel about other minorities?
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.
Who knows about Mormonism? Is this story the truth?
Republican Presidential Candidate, Mitt Romney got into a heated exchange with a radio host about his Mormonism.
Romney took offense to the fact that the host wanted Romney to talk about his Mormon beliefs. “I’m not running as a Mormon,” said Romney, visibly angry about having to answer to the same issue constantly. This is a page out of John F. Kennedy’s famous playbook when he was made to answer questions about his Catholicism. I applaud Romney’s wish to separate his personal faith from the office he’s running for.
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%.
Mitt Romney has made it painfully clear that he’s willing to cater to the extremely conservative religious right’s social values of opposing abortion. They call it the “culture of life.” Was Romney always this religious?
This video from a 1994 Debate against Ted Kennedy will help us figure that out!