Chapter 12: Getting Religion on the Campaign Trail
In 1960 John F. Kennedy became only the second Catholic nominated for the nation’s highest office. But just because Democrats chose him to be their standard bearer it didn’t mean he wouldn’t be subject to bigoted attacks on his religion and assertions by even respectable religious figures that Kennedy would be unable to separate himself from clerical authority. In September 1960 when the ironically named Conference of Citizens for Religious Freedom, led by Norman Vincent Peale, declared that Kennedy’s faith should be an issue of debate in the campaign, Kennedy was forced to respond.
And respond he did. In a speech to the Houston Ministerial Association, Kennedy delivered one of the best campaign speeches in American political history. Declaring “I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who happens also to be Catholic,” Kennedy made clear that at issue in the election should not be about what “kind of church” he believe in, but the “kind of America” he believed in.