In a speech at a Christian university Jeb Bush – in vast contrast to a speech delivered by fellow Catholic JFK – said he would let his religious beliefs influence how he governs.
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It is perhaps a stunning marker on the timeline of religious control of the United States.
Fifty-five years ago then-Senator John F. Kennedy, facing a nation fearing religious control of the White House and a nation that had never elected a Roman Catholic as president, was forced to deliver a speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association to reassure the Protestant ministers, and American voters, that he was a strong believer in the separation of church and state and that he would never let his faith govern him as he governed the country.
"I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party candidate for president who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me," Kennedy told the solemn and skeptical audience.
"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," Kennedy promised.
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.
Compare those now almost sacred words to the promise Kennedy's fellow Roman Catholic Jeb Bush made today, while speaking also to a religious group: Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, where he delivered the keynote address at this morning's commencement.
"I am asked sometimes whether I would ever allow my decisions in government to be influenced by my Christian faith,” Bush told the group of 34,000. "Whenever I hear this, I know what they want me to say. The simple and safe reply is, 'No. Never. Of course not.' If the game is political correctness, that’s the answer that moves you to the next round. The endpoint is a certain kind of politician we’ve all heard before – the guy whose moral convictions are so private, so deeply personal, that he even refuses to impose them on himself."
Image: Screenshot via Liberty University/YouTube