Our Civic Duty and JFK’s 1960 Speech

As Kathryn notes, Archbishop Dolan believes that John F. Kennedy endorsed the opinion that one’s Catholic faith should not inspire one’s decisions. The good archbishop is not alone in this view, as former senator Santorum has described Kennedy’s opinion in similar if more vivid terms.

This reading implies that Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech on the relationship between church and state was secularist: the church should not influence private citizens. This was not Kennedy’s position.

Kennedy’s position was a few degrees removed from secularism. Yes, Kennedy said he believes in a “president whose religious views are his own private affair,” but he implied that religious views should have private and public consequences. In the final third of his speech, Kennedy said the following words:

[I]f the time should ever come–and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible–when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.

But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith–nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.

If Kennedy’s position was that one’s faith should be completely private, he would have said that an officeholder should stay in office even if his public duties violated his private conscience; and he would have advocated that religious people disavow their faith or their church. But he did not take those positions. His position was more nuanced.

For what it’s worth, Kennedy’s position is not my own. But it’s also not as easily caricatured as conservatives and liberals make it out to be.



  • Greg

    So that speech doesn’t make you want to vomit? That’s the effect it has on the candidate Catholic Vote has chosen to endorse. Kennedy wisely recognized something that far too many people today refuse to accept: that there should be a difference between a leader’s private religious views and what that leader is obligated to impose on the population he or she is elected to lead.

  • Marsha

    It felt good to see JFK upheld in a post on this site. I don’t remember this happening previously. Thank-you.



Receive our updates via email.