Theologian Reflects on 50th Anniversary of Kennedy's Presidential Campaign
September 14, 2010
Nearly 50 years to the day that President John F. Kennedy made his famous address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on the issue of his Roman Catholic faith, theologian Shaun Casey, author of The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy v. Nixon 1960, reflected on the significance of the speech and its relevance today during a lecture in Emmanuel's Janet M. Daley Library Lecture Hall on Monday, September 13th.
According to Casey, an associate professor of Christian ethics and director of the National Capital Semester for Seminarians (NCSS) at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., Kennedy's speech on September 12, 1960 to a group of Protestant ministers was instrumental to his campaign to become the first Catholic U.S. president. Running for the office in an era in which anti-Catholic sentiment was rampant across the country, when the standard conventional political wisdom said a Catholic could not be elected president, and many Protestants questioned whether he as a Catholic could make decisions for the country separate from the Church, Kennedy made great strides that day in Texas to simultaneously quell anti-Catholic bigotry and earn his seat in the Oval Office.
"That speech is a hallmark against [religious] bigotry," said Casey, who has served as a visiting fellow at the Center for American Progress and as a religious outreach advisor during President Barack Obama's campaign. "He dealt with the Catholic issue directly, confirming his Catholicism while calming the fears of Protestants, making the case for being Catholic in America and in politics in 1960."
With issues of religious tolerance currently making headlines, Casey ended his discussion by reflecting on the legacy of Kennedy's speech, believing there are key principles that future political leaders can and should appreciate. He highlighted the brilliance of Kennedy's campaign approach, reaching out to others to help educate him about the Catholic bigotry that existed in America, most of which Kennedy had previously never encountered. Casey also stressed the need for today's leaders to recognize the importance of religious freedom and the powerful impact it still has in politics today.
"This speech was the turning point of his campaign," said Casey. "It reenergized his popularity. In terms of a presidential speech it shows that a wise and sensitive speech on issues of religion can make a difference."
Read a transcript of Kennedy's speech here.