Kennedy battled religious bias in election campaign

Kennedy departed from Our Lady of the Forest Church in Forest Row, England with Father Charles P. Dolman and Secret Service agents after mass in 1963. PHOTO FROM PUBLIC DOMAIN

Kennedy departed from Our Lady of the Forest Church in Forest Row, England with Father Charles P. Dolman and Secret Service agents after mass in 1963. PHOTO FROM PUBLIC DOMAIN

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Kennedy departed from Our Lady of the Forest Church in Forest Row, England with Father Charles P. Dolman and Secret Service agents after mass in 1963. PHOTO FROM PUBLIC DOMAIN

In the early 1960s, the presidency of John F. Kennedy managed to create and affect a series of debates. Kennedy led the country during part of the Cold War against the Soviet Union, he fought for underrepresented groups such as people of color and those with intellectual disabilities and he contributed to a partial ban on nuclear weapons tests.

Not only did Kennedy stir debates because of his political views, his religion also created controversy. In the 1960s, many feared a Catholic president would answer to the Pope. When Kennedy began his campaign for the 1960 presidency, many found Catholicism to be an undesirable trait in a president as the nation had never elected a Catholic commander-in-chief before.

According to Nina Tisch, Education Specialist at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, there was a great anti-Catholic movement because people believed that a Catholic President would be under the direction of the Church and the Vatican, which would result in a theocracy: no separation between church and state.

Tisch said that there was a lot of concern surrounding the fact that he was Catholic and his intentions for America were controlled from elsewhere.

“People who were not Catholic were very concerned that he would be beholden to the Pope and not be his own man,” Tisch said.

According to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Kennedy lost Ohio, Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee during his campaign, simply due to his religion. Kennedy made a speech in Houston, Texas called the Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association.

“Kennedy spoke to Protestant Clergymen, specifically, about his Catholicism. He talked about how he believed in an America where there was a separation of church and state,” Tisch said.

In the Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, Kennedy spoke about how his Catholicism should not affect his chances of being elected president. He believed that despite the debate regarding his religion, there were still other important issues at hand, which was where the points of judgment should lie.

“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,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy believed that people should all be fairly judged and that he should win or lose the election based on his political beliefs and not his Catholicism.

“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 (a group of voters are motivated by a specific common concern) of any kind,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy warned of the danger of religious intolerance.

“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,” Kennedy said. “Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you.”

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