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Background Memorandum Prepared by Democratic National Committee

September 08, 1960

Certain issues pertaining to the manner in which Senator Kennedy would conduct the Office of the President are recurrent in the present campaign. The areas of concern about which questions are frequently asked by fairminded persons, together with Senator Kennedy's answers, are as follows:

1. On the question of separation of church and state and the general responsibility of the President:

I believe as a Senator that the separation of church and state is fundamental to our American concept and heritage and should remain so. (Look magazine, Mar. 3, 1959)

I am fully aware of the fact that the Democratic Party, by nominating someone of my faith, has taken on what many regard as new and hazardous risk - new, at least since 1928. But I look at it this way: The Democratic Party has once again placed its confidence in the American people, and in their ability to render a free, fair judgment - to uphold the Constitution and my oath of office - and to reject any kind of religious pressure or obligation that might directly or indirectly interfere with my conduct of the Presidency in the national interest. My record of 14 years supporting public education - supporting complete separation of church and state - and resisting pressure from any source on any issue should be clear by now to everyone.

I hope that no American, considering the really critical issues facing this country, will waste his franchise by voting either for me or against me solely on account of my religious affiliation. It is not relevant, I want to stress, what some other political or religious leader may have said on this subject. It is not relevant what abuses may have existed in other countries or in other times. It is not relevant what pressures, if any, might conceivably be brought to bear on me. I am telling you now what you are entitled to know: That my decisions on every public policy will be my own - as an American, a Democrat and a freeman. (Acceptance speech, Los Angeles, July 15, 1960)

There is only one legitimate question underlying all the rest: Would you, as President of the United States, be responsive in any way to ecclesiastical pressures or obligations of any kind that might in any fashion influence or interfere with your conduct of that Office in the national interest? I have answered that question many times. My answer was, and is "No." (Speech before American Society of Newspaper Editors, Washington, Apr. 21, 1960)

Once that question is answered, there is no legitimate issue of my religion. But there are, I think, legitimate questions of public policy - of concern to religious groups which no one should feel bigoted about raising, and to which I do not object answering. But I do object to being the only candidate required to answer those questions. (Speech before American Society of Newspaper Editors, Washington, Apr. 21, 1960)

II. On the question of an Ambassador to the Vatican:

I am flatly opposed to appointment of an Ambassador to the Vatican. Whatever advantages it might have in Rome - and I'm not convinced of these - they would be more than offset by the divisive effect at home. (Look magazine, Mar. 3, 1960)

III. The question of aid to parochial schools:

There can be no question of Federal funds used for support of parochial or private schools. It's unconstitutional under the first amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court. I'm opposed to the Federal Government's extending support to sustain any church or its schools. As for such fringe matters as buses, lunches, and other services, the issue is primarily social and economic and not religious. Each case must be judged on its merits within the law as interpreted by the courts. (Look magazine)

IV. On the question of birth control (taken from the Kennedy-Beston interview which appeared in the New York Times, Nov. 27, 1959):

Question. The Bishops of the United States have said that U.S. Catholics "will not support any public assistance, either at home or abroad, to promote artificial birth prevention, abortion, or sterilization, whether through direct aid or by means of international organizations." What is your position on this?

Answer. I think it would be a mistake for the U.S. Government to attempt to advocate the limitation of the population of underdeveloped countries. This problem involves important social and economic questions which must be solved by the people of those countries themselves. For the United States to intervene on this basis would involve a kind of mean patriotism, which I think they would find most objectionable.

Question. You mean your present views are not the result of this statement by the Bishops?

Answer. No. The question I think we all have to address ourselves to is whether the available resources of the world are increasing as fast as the population. That is the overall question. My belief is that they are, though their management may not be.

Nevertheless, we have to be very careful about how we give advice on this subject. The U.S. Government does not advocate birth control here in the United States. Nor have we ever advocated such a policy in Western Europe. Accordingly, I think it would be the greatest psychological mistake for us to appear to advocate the limitation of the black or brown or yellow peoples whose population is increasing no faster than in the United States. They must reach decisions on these matters based on their own experience and judgment.

Question. What would be your position as President if the Indian Government, for example, decided on birth control as a matter of national policy? If they did so decide that it was in their interest to suggest limiting births in their national territory, would this in any way trouble you if you were President in giving aid to a country that followed such a policy?

Answer. As I said before, I believe this is a matter to be determined by the country itself. I would not think it was wise for the United States to refuse assistance to a country which is pursuing a policy it feels to be in its own best interest. To do this would be a kind of intervention in their national life, which I would think was unwise.

V. On the Poling incident:

I was invited by the Reverend Dr. Poling to attend the dinner in connection with the financial drive to build the Chapel of the Four Chaplains. I was happy to accept.

A few days before the event, I learned, as the Reverend Dr. Poling describes in his book, that I was to be the spokesman for the Catholic faith. I was not being invited as a former member of the Armed Forces or as a Member of Congress or as an individual, but as an official representative of a religious organization.

I further learned that the memorial was to be located in the sanctuary of a church of a different faith. This is against the precepts of the Catholic Church.

Because of the fact that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was unable to support the drive, therefore, I felt I had not credentials to attend in the capacity in which I had been asked.

As the Reverend Dr. Poling noted in his book, a number of Catholics attended the dinner and participated in the drive as individuals, which is quite different.

I informed the Reverend Dr. Poling of my difficulty and told him I would have been delighted to have taken part in any joint memorial to which I was invited as a public official.

My record on the question of the relationship between church and state as been written in the past 14 years in Congress and I believe that my support of the constitutional provision of separation of church and state is well known. (Philadelphia Inquirer, April 15,1960)

VI. The pertinent constitutional provision:

No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office of public trust under the United States. (Article VI, Constitution of the United States)

VII. The position of the Roman Catholic Church:

We deny absolutely and without qualification that the Catholic Bishops of the United States are seeking a union of Church and State by any endeavors whatsoever, either proximately or remotely. If tomorrow Catholics constituted a majority in our country, they would not seek a union of Church and State. They would, then as now, uphold the Constitution and all its amendments, recognizing the moral obligation imposed upon all Catholics to observe and defend the Constitution and its amendments. (Statement of the Catholic Bishops of the United States, 1948)

There is nothing in the religious teachings of the Roman Catholic Church which in any way deters a Catholic of democratic convictions from practicing his political principles as freely and fully as a non-Catholic. * * * About political or social or economic questions, the Church has no "official" views. * * * Catholic teachings favor a clear separation of Church and State. (Article by C. V. Shields, Frontier Magazine, May 1958)

VIII. On the political question:

The Supreme Court has written that, as public officials, "we are neither Jew nor Gentile, neither Catholic nor agnostic. We owe equal attachment to the Constitution and we are equally bound by our obligations whether we derive our citizenship from the earliest or latest immigrants to these shores * * * [for] religion is outside the sphere of political government. (Speech before American Association of Newspaper Editors, Washington, April 21, 1960)

IX. On the Knights of Columbus oath:



Passed from hand to hand under tables, slipped under doors, sent anonymously through the mails, an old and notorious piece of anti-Catholic propaganda turned up last week in scattered cities and towns, mostly in the South. Part of a spreading anti-Catholic campaign against Presidential Candidate John F. Kennedy, the document purports to be the oath of the Knights of Columbus, a 1-million member-fraternal order of Roman Catholic men (Kennedy is a member). Sample quote from one version of the fake oath: "I do further promise and declare that I will, when opportunity presents, wage relentless war, secretly and openly, against all heretics, Protestants, and Masons, as I am directed to do, to extirpate them from the face of the whole earth."

This fraud, like the bogus Protocols of the Elders of Zion used against the Jews, has been spread by bigots for almost half a century. It first turned up in a congressional election in 1912 in a lunatic-fringe tract mailed from Aurora, Mo. The following year, a congressional committee investigating unfair election practices condemned the oath as a fabrication. At that time, the false oath was read into the Congressional Record, a fact that present day bigots cite to lend it an air of authenticity. Ku Klux Klanners circulated it against Al Smith in 1928. It turned up again last spring during the West Virginia primary battle between Jack Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. A scattering of clergymen have recently quoted it in sermons, and it has been printed in newsletters of Southern Baptist Churches in Rainelle, W. Va.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Greensboro, N.C.; and Knoxville, Tenn. One clergyman of the Nazarene Baptist Church, W. L. King, who quoted the oath and refused to retract when its fraud was pointed out to him, last week was charged with criminal libel in the magistrate's court at West View, Pa.

Full text of the actual "obligation" taken by members of the Knights of Columbus' top Fourth Degree: I swear to support the Constitution of the United States. I pledge myself, as a Catholic citizen and a Knight of Columbus, fully to enlighten myself upon my duties as a citizen and conscientiously perform them entirely in the interest of my country, regardless of all personal consequences. I pledge myself to do all in my power to preserve the integrity and purity of the ballot and to promote respect for law and order. I promise to practice my religion consistently and faithfully, and to so conduct myself in public affairs and in the exercise of public virtue as to reflect nothing but credit upon our Holy Church, to the end that She may flourish and our country prosper to the greater honor and glory of God. (Time magazine, August 29, 1960, p.15)

X. On religion as an issue:

One of the issues in this campaign is my religion * * * I don't think that my religion is any one's business but my business. Is any one going to tell me that I lost this primary the day that I was born and baptized 42 years ago? I don't believe it. * * *

If religion is a valid issue in the presidential campaign * * * I shouldn't have served in the House, I shouldn't now be serving in the Senate, and I shouldn't have been accepted by the U.S. Navy. (New York Herald Tribune, April 19, 1960)

XI. Oath of office taken by Members of Congress:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

John F. Kennedy, Background Memorandum Prepared by Democratic National Committee Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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