Video of the Day: John F. Kennedy's 1960 Religion Speech


Watch the landmark address on separation of church and state that Rick Santorum says makes him vomit.

Republican candidate Rick Santorum raised a fuss this weekend -- one of several -- by saying on ABC News' This Week that he "almost threw up" after reading John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech on religion. "I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," Santorum said. "The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country."

That speech, which Kennedy delivered in Houston on September 12, 1960, is a landmark of American politics. The Massachusetts senator's Catholic faith had become a hot-button issue in the campaign, with critics speculating darkly that as president he would take orders from the pope. Kennedy sought to allay those fears by laying out his views on separation of church and state. Here's a key passage early in the speech:

[B]ecause 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.

Kennedy, of course, went on to beat Richard Nixon two months later and become president. The speech is remembered as one of the finest in American politics, and is cited as the template for both the speech on race in America that then-Senator Obama delivered in the wake of the Jeremiah Wright controversy four years ago and a 2007 speech by Mitt Romney that addressed his Mormonism.

Santorum may be misreading Kennedy somewhat -- the future president wasn't saying that "people of faith had no role in the public sphere," as Santorum put it, but that it should not be a disqualifying factor for candidates, nor should it supersede the oath of office. But Santorum, himself a Catholic, seems to legitimately reject much of Kennedy's thought on the matter.

If you can't watch the video or would prefer to read a transcript, it's here. The video above features all but the last sentence of Kennedy's speech; to see the final sentence, plus a question-and-answer session, click here.

Jump to comments
Presented by

David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Time JFK Called the Air Force to Complain About a 'Silly Bastard'

51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a very angry phone call.

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



More in Politics

Just In