Monday, January 9, 2012
In the Fall of 2010, Prof. Michael McConnell gave a great lecture, to a packed house, at Notre Dame, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of then-candidate-Kennedy's "Catholic speech" to the Houston ministers. The lecture is now available here, thanks to the Notre Dame Law Review. No surprise -- it's excellent. The conclusion:
We should not underestimate the importance of what he was saying. By running forthrightly, and not apologizing for his Catholicism, and winning, and showing himself to the world as a President of whom we all can be proud, John F. Kennedy won a great victory for inclusion and against bigotry. But we must not overlook the way in which he reduced religious belief to accident of birth, or more specifically, to baptism. The important question facing the nation was not whether forty million Americans baptized into a certain religion are excluded from the presidency, but whether many more millions of Americans are excluded from full political participation because they ground their understanding of justice and morality in the teachings of their faith. The intellectual descendants of Blanshard and Dewey are still raising this question. Those who spend time in philosophy departments and law schools will recognize its contemporary incarnations. And I am sorry to say that John F. Kennedy’s great speech in Houston provides these voices more ammunition than challenge.