By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2012
The sad controversies of Penn State have shown us that there is one thing politicians in Washington do right. Well, do right most of the time. Official Washington is smart enough to know what the folks at Penn State sure didn’t — you don’t build statues or monuments to people who are still alive. At Penn State, they thought it was a great idea to erect a statue of football coach Joe Paterno when he not only was still alive but still coaching. Nobody could have imagined when they dedicated the Paterno statue in 2001 that it would have to be removed in ignominy and shame, by workers hiding behind a hastily-built fence, only 11 years later.
But they should have known they were taking chances when they decided to honor somebody whose legacy was still being writ. They should have listened to Robert Shrum, who said Sunday on Meet the Press: “We shouldn’t put up statues of living people. You’re going to make yourself a hostage to fortune. And that’s what happened here.”
If they had paid attention to how Washington builds its monuments, they would have seen an abundance of caution, a willingness to let the passions of the day subside and history render its considered verdict. Just look at the edifices that dot the Mall. George Washington died in 1799, universally acclaimed as the greatest American. But it was 49 years before work began on the Washington Monument, and it was not completed until 85 years after the first president’s death.
Thomas Jefferson, one of the greatest of the Founders, died in 1826. It was 117 years before his Memorial was dedicated. Abraham Lincoln saved the union. But he was in his grave for 57 years before he got a Monument in his name. Franklin D. Roosevelt was beloved as the president who guided the country through a Great Depression and a world war. He did get his likeness on the dime, replacing Winged Victory, while passions were strong. But that was recognition of his work on what became the March of Dimes and the battle against polio. He didn’t get a memorial for 52 years, until 1997. And those eager to honor Martin Luther King Jr. had to wait 43 years after his assassination before his statue was unveiled in West Potomac Park.
The patience is often tested, particularly when passions are strongest. A center for the performing arts had already been approved by President Dwight Eisenhower three years before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Given the slain leader’s support for the arts, it was a no-brainer to affix his name to the new center in 1971. But waiting for history has served the country well. For the most part, the United States has avoided what is commonplace in dictatorships such as Iraq and the Soviet Union, where citizens could get dizzy watching statues of Saddam, Lenin and Stalin go up and come down.
Despite the pressure of those with personal nostalgia and political agendas such as those rushing to name buildings after Ronald Reagan and build statues of him while he was alive, the American model is to wait until contemporaries are dead before taking chisel to granite. Just think of the one major exception in the capital. Is there anyone who doesn’t regret the hasty decision to name the FBI headquarters for its longtime director J. Edgar Hoover? The decision was made in 1972 only 48 hours after Hoover’s death, and long before historians began sorting through some of the less salutory aspects of the director’s tenure.
By: George E. Condon, Jr., National Journal, July 24, 2012
America’s only Catholic president referred to God three times in his inaugural address. He invoked the Bible’s command to care for the poor and the sick. Later in his presidency, he said, unequivocally, about civil rights: “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.”
Yet, last Sunday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who is also Catholic, told ABC News that John F. Kennedy’s classic 1960 campaign speech in Houston about religious liberty was so offensive to people of faith that it made him want to vomit.
“To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up,” Santorum said. “What kind of country do we live [in] that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?”
Either Santorum doesn’t know his American history or he is purposefully rewriting it. How can he seriously imagine that Kennedy, a person who got down on his knees each night to pray, who gave his time and money to win tough primaries in states with strong anti-Catholic traditions, who challenged us to live our Christianity by ending racial hatred, somehow lacked the courage of faith or tried to exclude people of faith from government and politics?
In his presidential campaign, Kennedy faced fierce anti-Catholic prejudice. He appeared before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association because he feared that his faith was being used unfairly against him. Norman Vincent Peale, along with 150 other ministers, had issued a letter urging citizens to vote against Kennedy because, should he win, he would be controlled by the Vatican. Peale’s group called itself the National Conference of Citizens for Religious Freedom. How ironic that the term “religious freedom” would be used as double-speak for religious hypocrisy — but it certainly was not the first or last time.
Anti-Catholic prejudice has a long history in America. Construction of the Washington Monument was halted partly because an anti-Catholic controversy erupted in 1854, when the pope gave us a stone from Rome for the project. (You can see a change in color partway up the monument between the initial structure and the rest, finished nearly 30 years later.) Catholic students at public schools who didn’t want to recite the Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer were sometimes expelled. As late as 1928, voters rejected Catholic presidential candidate Al Smith, calling the Democratsthe party of “rum, Romanism and rebellion.”
Kennedy, my uncle, hoped to make it clear that the pope would not control him. The government would not regulate church doctrine, and no minister would determine government policy. As he put it:
“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 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.”
He specifically referred to birth control, too, saying he would follow his conscience in accordance with what he believed to be in the national interest and not cave in to “religious pressures or dictates.”
Santorum is more like Kennedy than he may realize — he follows his conscience. It’s true that on some issues, such as contraception, where the bishops are at odds with many other Catholics, he sides with the bishops. (I’m tempted to recall my father Robert Kennedy’s observation that priests are Republican and nuns Democratic.) But Santorum has also taken positions at odds with the Catholic hierarchy. He has opposed the church’s pro-immigrant policies. He has attacked President Obama’s “phony theology,” which he says involves caring for the Earth — no matter Pope Benedict’s pronouncements on protecting the environment.
Nor in his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed did Santorum cite papal views on the financial crisis. On Feb. 15, in an address at Rome’s Major Seminary, the pope said that “the world of finance, while necessary, no longer represents an instrument that favors our well-being or the life of mankind; instead it has become an oppressive power that almost demands our adoration.” Somehow Santorum missed that.
Can he be so ignorant of what Kennedy actually said and what the pope has actually preached? Or is he using his faith for political purposes?
Santorum has since expressed regret for his choice of words about Kennedy, but his words cannot be forgotten.The challenge is not Santorum — it is the 28 percent of Americans who think the separation of church and state should be abolished.
Santorum is encouraging division and intolerance. The subtext of his remarks is that America should be a conservative religious nation — and that Kennedy was denying it. Well, he was. Here are his words to the ministers in Houston:
“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 of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and the pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.”
Perhaps Santorum should recall the Gospel’s teachings, which might direct us to positions different from those he advocates. Jesus told his followers that they would be judged on how they clothed the naked, fed the hungry and welcomed the stranger. His directive to love God and our neighbor leads many faithful Americans to support same-sex marriage and to see that marriage itself can be strengthened when couples make love without fear of an unplanned pregnancy. Each of these positions can be made in a secular setting, but they also have a moral argument, grounded in faith.
In 2012, people of many faiths are running for office — Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, my own godson, Joseph Kennedy — and one can disagree with their policies while respecting their religious views. Bishops, priests, nuns, ministers, rabbis and imams lobby Congress and state legislatures on various issues. They have a voice. They just don’t always win every election or argument. Welcome to democracy.
By: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, The Washington Post Opinion Pages, March 2, 2012
Mullah Rick has spoken.
He wants religion returned to “the public square,” is opposed to contraception, premarital sex and abortion under any circumstances, wants children educated in what amounts to little red schoolhouses and called President Obama a “snob” for extolling college or some other kind of post-high school education. This is not a political platform. It’s a fatwa.
But that’s not all. On the Sunday shows he even lit into John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech to Protestant ministers in Houston, in which he called for the strict separation of church and state. Santorum said the speech sickened him.
“What kind of country do we live in that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?” Santorum asked George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.” “That makes me throw up.”
Earlier, he said, “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” not noticing that he was speaking from what amounts to the public square.
Kennedy’s speech is actually a sad document, a necessary attempt to combat the bigoted and ignorant notion that a Catholic president might take orders from the Vatican. He told the ministers in attendance that he believed “in a president whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.”
Oddly, the assurances that Kennedy offered that day are ones that I would like to hear from Santorum. He, too, is a Catholic, although not of the Kennedy variety. Santorum is severe and unamusing about his faith, and that is his prerogative. But he has shoved his beliefs in our faces, leaving no doubt that his presidency would be informed by his extremely conservative Catholicism. Santorum’s views are too conservative even for most Catholics.
This is a perilous and divisive approach. We have all of world history to warn us about what happens when religion takes too prominent a role. The public square gets used for beheadings and the like. While that is not likely to happen now — zoning rules and such forbid it — we do know that layering religion over politics is dangerous. Santorum cannot impose — and should not argue — that his political beliefs come from God. That closes all debate and often infuriates those who differ.
This belief that religion has been banished from public discussion is a conservative trope without foundation. New York City is now recovering from a frenzy of celebratory publicity regarding the elevation of Timothy Dolan to cardinal. We have applauded the feats of Tim Tebow, the so-called praying quarterback, who seems unintimidated in publicly expressing his religious convictions. And, of course, we have the prattling of Newt Gingrich, who believes in belief and believes you and I ain’t got any — certainly not if we vote Democratic. As any European can attest, the American public square is soaked in religion or religion-speak.
Santorum’s views on the place of religion and his quaint ideas about education are so anachronistic they would be laughable. But whenever I start to giggle a bit, I find that some absurd statement resonates with Republican primary voters. On the other hand, when Rick Perry said it was fine to help the children of undocumented immigrants go to college, he got pilloried for it. When Gingrich balked at deporting literally millions of people, he was excoriated. Every time some Republican says something sensible, the roof falls in on him.
But for nutty ideas, Santorum is a one-man band. His intellectually abhorrent defense of what might be called blue-collar culture — no education past high school — is a prescription for failure. What he calls their “desires and dreams” is a sucker’s game: Welcome to an economy that can provide few, if any, jobs for the minimally educated. And his jibe at Obama for wanting to do something about it is not politics as usual — it’s just plain irresponsible.
Rick Santorum is not, as some would have it, the Republican Party’s problem. The GOP is half the political equation, and so its inability to offer candidates of sound views and judgments is everyone’s problem. We have to vote for someone after all. But when I mull Santorum’s views on contraception, the role of women, the proper place for religion and what he thinks about education, I think he’s either running for president of the wrong country or marooned in the wrong century. The man is lost.
By: Richard Cohen, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 27, 2012
December 5, 2007
On Sept. 12, 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy gave a major speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, a group of Protestant ministers, on the issue of his religion. At the time, many Protestants questioned whether Kennedy’s Roman Catholic faith would allow him to make important national decisions as president independent of the church. Kennedy addressed those concerns before a skeptical audience of Protestant clergy. The following is a transcript of Kennedy’s speech:
Kennedy: Rev. Meza, Rev. Reck, I’m grateful for your generous invitation to speak my views.
While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election: the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers 90 miles off the coast of Florida; the humiliating treatment of our president and vice president by those who no longer respect our power; 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; an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space.
These 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.
But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected president, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured — perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. 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.
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 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.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
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. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.
Finally, 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 of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.
That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of presidency in which I believe — a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group, nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.
I would not look with favor upon a president working to subvert the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test — even by indirection — for it. If they disagree with that safeguard, they should be out openly working to repeal it.
I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none; who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require of him; and whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.
This is the kind of America I believe in, and this is the kind I fought for in the South Pacific, and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we may have a “divided loyalty,” that we did “not believe in liberty,” or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened the “freedoms for which our forefathers died.”
And in fact ,this is the kind of America for which our forefathers died, when they fled here to escape religious test oaths that denied office to members of less favored churches; when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom; and when they fought at the shrine I visited today, the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died McCafferty and Bailey and Carey. But no one knows whether they were Catholic or not, for there was no religious test at the Alamo.
I ask you tonight to follow in that tradition, to judge me on the basis of my record of 14 years in Congress, on my declared stands against an ambassador to the Vatican, against unconstitutional aid to parochial schools, and against any boycott of the public schools (which I have attended myself)— instead of judging me on the basis of these pamphlets and publications we all have seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries, and always omitting, of course, the statement of the American Bishops in 1948, which strongly endorsed church-state separation, and which more nearly reflects the views of almost every American Catholic.
I do not consider these other quotations binding upon my public acts. Why should you? But let me say, with respect to other countries, that I am wholly opposed to the state being used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit, or persecute the free exercise of any other religion. And I hope that you and I condemn with equal fervor those nations which deny their presidency to Protestants, and those which deny it to Catholics. And rather than cite the misdeeds of those who differ, I would cite the record of the Catholic Church in such nations as Ireland and France, and the independence of such statesmen as Adenauer and De Gaulle.
But let me stress again that these are my views. For contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.
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 or 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 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 I should lose on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate, satisfied that I had tried my best and was fairly judged. But if this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being president on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser — in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.
But if, on the other hand, I should win the election, then I shall devote every effort of mind and spirit to fulfilling the oath of the presidency — practically identical, I might add, to the oath I have taken for 14 years in the Congress. For without reservation, I can “solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, so help me God.
By: National Public Radio, February 28, 2012: Transcript courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, delivered by JFK on September 12, 1960