Monday, May 16, 2011

JFK + 50

by Edd Doerr

Fifty years after the squeaker election of the first Catholic President, politico-religious demographer and Voice of Reason editor Albert J. Menendez has produced the definitive study of the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon White House contest, The Religious Factor in the 1960 Presidential Election: An Analysis of the Kennedy Victory Over Anti-Catholic Bigotry (McFarland & Co, 2011, 261 pp, $45). Based on actual voting data from every county in the US, Menendez' book shows the extent of anti-Catholic voting back then. No other scholar has looked at that campaign in such detail. Voting in 1960 was more influenced by religion than previous scholars or journalists had estimated.

Menendez analyzes in depth the distribution of anti-Catholic and anti-Kennedy literature disseminated by much the same religious fundamentalist outfits now dominant in the Republican Party and anti-Obama outfits.

Menendez includes in the book the complete texts of Kennedy's April 21, 1960, address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors and his September 21, 1960, address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, in which he faced the religious and church-state issues head-on.

Kennedy firmly opposed tax aid to religious private schools (in 1960 about 90% were Catholic schools) and US diplomatic recognition of the Holy See (Vatican). Nixon favored tax aid for religious schools after he was elected President in 1968, while Reagan extended diplomatic recognition to the Vatican in 1984. (On February 9, 1984, I represented the American Humanist Association, the Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism, the American Ethical Union, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and Americans for Religious Liberty in oral and written testimony before a congressional committee on "Reprogramming Funds for US Mission to the Vatican".) After the Supreme Court's 1962 ruling against government-mandated prayer in public schools, Kennedy stood with the Court.

Paul Blanshard, co-author with me of the church-state column in The Humanist, met with Kennedy and Ted Sorensen in the White House early in 1960. Blanshard assured me that Kennedy was sincere in his strong support for church-state separation.

A point to be made in all this is that humanist values are widely shared across the religious spectrum and that solidarity across religious divisions is essential to heading off the consequences of a fundamentalist and ultraconservative ascendancy.

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