On Sept. 12, 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy delivered one of the great American speeches on religion and government. Refuting charges that he might use the office of the presidency to advance his Roman Catholic faith, Kennedy reaffirmed the importance of church-state separation and tolerance for people of all religious perspectives. Here are his remarks:
While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that I believe we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election; the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers only 90 miles off the coast of Florida--the humiliating treatment of our President and Vice President by those who no longer respect our power--the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctors' bills, the families forced to give up their farms--an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space.
These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues--for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barrier.
But because 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 …