John F. Kennedy photo

Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Salt Lake City, Utah, Mormon Tabernacle

September 23, 1960

I am grateful to the presidency of the Latter Day Saints Church, and to its presiding bishopric, for according mc the privilege of speaking within the historic walls of this magnificent tabernacle. This is an honor which I shall long remember.

I am honored, too, to be here with Elbert Curtis, my friend and spokesman in this State. It was here more than a hundred years ago that the great-grandfather of Elbert Curtis declared: "This is the Place." And here Brigham Young built not only a great tabernacle, famed the world over, but a great State, the heart of a great intermountain region, replacing the barren desert with a land now rich in resources, beauty, and spirit.

Tonight I speak for all Americans in expressing our gratitude to the Mormon people - for their pioneer spirit, their devotion to culture and learning, their example of industry and self-reliance. But I am particularly in their debt tonight for their successful battle to make religious liberty a living reality - for having proven to the world that different faiths of different views could flourish harmoniously in our midst - and for having proven to the Nation in this century that a public servant devout in his chosen faith was still capable of undiminished allegiance to our Constitution and national interest.

I am thinking of Apostle Reed Smoot - and those who challenged his right to a seat in the U.S. Senate, charging that he would subordinate the claims of his country to the claims of his church. They did not know - or would not hear - that the 101st section of the Latter Day Saints Doctrine and Covenants gave a scriptural preeminence to the Constitution and its oaths. But fortunately the forces of reason and tolerance enabled him to take his seat. And in the years that followed, Senator Smoot earned the respect and affection of every Senator who had challenged him. He rose to be dean of the Senate and chairman of its powerful Committee on Finance - and no voice was ever heard to say that he had not been devoted solely to the public good as he saw it.

The story of Reed Smoot symbolizes the long struggle of the Mormon people for religious liberty. They suffered persecution and exile, at the hands of Americans whose own ancestors, ironically enough, had fled here to escape the curse of intolerance. But they never faltered in their devotion to the principle of religious liberty - not for themselves alone, but for all mankind. And in the 11th article of faith, Prophet Joseph Smith not only declared in ringing tones: "We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience" - he also set forth the belief that all men should be allowed "the same privilege. Let them worship how, where, or what they may."

And what has been true of the Mormons has been true of countless other religious faiths - Jews, Quakers, Catholics, Baptists, Unitarians, Christian Scientists, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and many, many others. All encountered resistance and oppression. All stuck by both their rights and their country. And in time the fruits of liberty were theirs to share as well; and the very diversity of their beliefs enriched our Nation's spiritual strength.

That spiritual strength is not the product of any one church or sect. This Nation, as the Supreme Court has said, "knows no heresy and is committed to the support of no dogma." More than 200,000 churches in 50 States represent some 255 religious groups. Many a great nation has been torn by religious feuds and holy wars - but never the United States of America. For here diversity has led to unity - liberty has led to strength. And today that strength - that spiritual, moral strength - is needed as never before.

Americans have faced peril before. We have faced powerful enemies before. We have confronted many a dictator as harsh as Secretary Khrushchev. But Mr. Khrushchev - while he may symbolize and personify our danger - is not the enemy. Defeating Mr. Khrushchev in debate does not defeat the enemy. For the enemy is the Communist system itself - implacable, insatiable, unceasing in its drive for world domination.

When I visited the Soviet Union in 1939, it was barely emerging into the 20th century, isolated in its godless tyranny, devoid of allies and influence. Today, 21 years later, the Kremlin rules a ruthless empire stretching in a great half circle from East Berlin to Vietminh - with outposts springing up in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and now, only 90 miles from our shores, in the fretful island of Cuba.

The products of their once-backward educational system have surpassed our vaunted science and engineering in launching rockets to the moon and outer space. The growth of their once-backward economy now progresses at a rate nearly three times as fast as our own. And the prestige of this once-feared and hated nation now weaves a glittering web entrapping neutralists and nationalists in all corners of the globe.

In almost every area of competition - military, diplomatic, economic, scientific, and educational - the Communists are now capable of competing with the United States on nearly equal terms.

But in one area the Communists can never overcome us - unless we fall back to their level - and that is the area of spiritual values - moral strength - the strength of our will and our purpose - the qualities and traditions that make this Nation a shining example to all who yearn to be free.

This is our single greatest advantage. For this is not a struggle for supremacy of arms alone - it is also a struggle for supremacy between two conflicting ideologies: Freedom under God versus ruthless, godless tyranny. The contest, moreover, is not merely to gain the material wealth of other nations - it is a contest for their hearts and minds. And the challenge to all Americans now is not merely the extent of our material contribution as taxpayers - but the extent to which we can find greater strength for the long pull in our traditions of religious liberty than the masters of the Kremlin can ever exact from disciplines of servitude.

Here in our land church and state are separate and free - in their lands neither is free, and the church lives in constant fear of the state. In our land the diversity of equality brings strength to our spiritual ties - in their lands the terror of tyranny drives hope and will from the hearts of men.

The Communists camp divides over the best pathway to follow to world conquest. In this Nation our two parties divide over the best pathway to world peace.

I have advocated the pathway of strength - a stronger America - the strongest sentinel at the gate of freedom - a nation prepared to put force behind law so that we will not be destroyed by the law of force. But I mean spiritually and morally stronger as well.

For it is a harsh fact that we have tended in recent times to neglect these deeper values in favor of our material strength. We have traveled in 100 years from the age of the pioneer to the age of payola. We boast to foreign visitors of our great dams and cities and wealth but not our free religious heritage. We have become missionaries abroad of a wide range of doctrines - free enterprise, anticommunism, and pro-Americanism - but rarely the doctrine of religious liberty.

This is not a party issue. It is not a matter of legislation. But it calls for leadership dedicated to our Nation's spiritual ideals - leadership inspiring in its sense of moral values - and leadership passionate in its devotion to the American heritage of liberty. It calls for a President whose every utterance will lift the hearts of those around the world who thirst for power or plenty - but who thirst even more for a leader of conviction and courage and compassion. And it calls, finally, for a whole Nation willing to recapture the spirit of 1847, willing to commit itself once again to great ends, willing to dedicate itself to the enrichment of our society as well as our lives.

I have called that challenge the New Frontier - for it represents - not the comforts we seek - but the tasks we must all perform, if we are to live up to our trust and our heritage. Tonight I ask the people of Utah to join me on that frontier - to work with me, and with Americans of every creed and section, in building a still greater Nation - and in building a world where the strong are just and the weak secure.

Then - but only then - can we truly heed the command which Brigham Young heard from the Lord more than a century ago - the command he conveyed to his little band of followers: "Go as pioneers * * * to a land of peace."

John F. Kennedy, Speech of Senator John F. Kennedy, Salt Lake City, Utah, Mormon Tabernacle Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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