Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Was Kennedy's speech an effort to privatize religion?

Although John F. Kennedy declared that he believed in an America where the separation of church and state is "absolute," I doubt that he (or Ted Sorenson, for that matter) had any very firm views on the most significant issues about the proper role of religion in civic life.  The point of the Houston speech was to reassure Protestants---especially those whose views had been shaped by Paul Blanshard's American Freedom and Catholic Power, and the mentality that produced that unfortunate polemic---that he would govern in accordance with American principles, not Catholic dogma.  He wanted Protestants and others to rest easy in the confident belief that the Pope would not be dictating U.S. policy in a Kennedy administration.  From our perspective today, it's amusing to think of people worrying that John F. Kennedy (or his father Joe or his brother Ted) would be taking orders from the Pope  . . . about anything.  As Hadley Arkes has remarked, Kennedy evidently regarded his religion as so private a matter that he refused to impose it even on himself.


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