Monday, February 27, 2012

Selections from John F. Kennedy's Speech to the Protestant Ministers of Houston (TX) on Religious Freedom and the Eligibility of Catholics to Serve as President

In 1960, many Americans opposed the election of a Catholic as President of the United States.  Opposition was strongest from many conservative Protestant ministers.  JFK took this issue head on in a speech in Houston, declaring that it was unAmerican to vote against a candidate because of his denomination.

Recently, Rick Santorum said this speech made him want to "throw up."  (He said nothing about the attitude of the Protestant Ministers, a group he is now courting, who were divided between those who viewed Kennedy's speech favorably and those who thought he did not go far enough in assuring them he would respect Church-State separation.) Here are portions of the speech:

While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election; the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers 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 doctor 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 barriers.

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.

… 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 parishoners for whom to vote

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.

I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end

… 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 would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the first amendment's guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so -- and neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test -- even by indirection -- for it. If they disagree with that safeguard they should be out openly working to repeal it.

This is the kind of America I believe in -- and this is the kind I fought for in the South Pacific, and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we may have a "divided loyalty," that we did "not believe in liberty," or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened the "freedoms for which our forefathers died."

And in fact this is the kind of America for which our forefathers died -- when they fled here to escape religious test oaths that denied office to members of less favored churches -- when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom -- and when they fought at the shrine I visited today, the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died McCafferty and Bailey and Carey -- but no one knows whether they were Catholic or not. For there was no religious test at the Alamo.

… instead of judging me on the basis of … pamphlets and publications we all have seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries, and always omitting, of course, the statement of the American Bishops in 1948 which strongly endorsed church-state separation, and which more nearly reflects the views of almost every American Catholic.

I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith -- nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.

If I should lose on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate, satisfied that I had tried my best and was fairly judged. But if this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser, in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.

You can watch the entire speech here:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Catholics Sisters Ask Supreme Court to Uphold Health Care Act


Two dozen Catholic women religious, many from the very religious orders that actually minister in health care, have filed a brief in the Supreme Court supporting the President’s signature legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act.

The brief states:

Amici curiae represent the leadership of Catholic women’s religious orders from across the United States. Amici and the orders they serve have a long history of public service in healthcare in America dating back to the 1700s. These services include founding hospitals and free clinics and providing free healthcare to the underprivileged and uninsured. The work by Amici gives them a unique perspective on the unmet healthcare needs of the poor, as well as on the positive impact that will result from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA” or the “Act”). . . .

Amici have witnessed firsthand the national crisis that prompted Congress to pass the ACA. In particular, Amici have seen the devastating impact of the lack of affordable health insurance and healthcare on women, children, and other vulnerable members of society.

Amici believe that a civilized society must ensure the provision of basic healthcare to its citizens regardless of their ability to pay for it. They further believe it is a moral imperative that all levels of government institute programs that ensure the poor receive such care.

Kudos to these good sisters in their efforts to see that all have the health care they need.  We hope that the Court will hear the voices of these nuns and religious orders who are the leaders and operators of our Catholic health care ministry.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012



As part of a webcast held last week by a conservative political organization, the Most Rev. Walker Nickless, the Bishop of the Diocese of Sioux City, warned that contraception was a grave moral evil and that Christians "have to stand up and violently oppose this."

It is very clear that with 98% of women using birth control, the democratic process does not offer much hope in efforts against contraception.  But does the closing of that door mean that violence is the only alternative?  What's your view, peaceful or violent means of opposing contraception?  Or like many Catholics, do you think the Church should focus on other issues entirely?

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Good Compromise on Contraception

Our friend E.J. Dionne offers this very insightful analysis:

[The President] was right, finally, to reach a compromise that respected the legitimate concerns of each side. He should have done this at the outset, but far better late than never....

Liberal Catholics were proud to stand with conservatives in defending the church's religious liberty rights in carrying out its social and charitable mission. Now, we'd ask conservatives to consider that what makes the Gospel so compelling -- especially for the young, many of whom are leaving the church -- is the central role it assigns to our responsibilities to act on behalf of the needy, the left-out and the abandoned.

And we'd ask our non-Catholic liberal friends to think about this, too. Many of us agreed that broad contraception coverage was, as a general matter, a good thing, and we shared their concern for women's rights. But we were troubled that some with whom we usually agree seemed to relish a fight with the church and defined any effort to accommodate its anxieties as "selling out."

Read it all here:

Friday, February 10, 2012


From Catholics United.  Their views represents ours as well:

The White House today announced a compromise on the recent Department of Health and Human Services decision regarding contraceptive coverage for religious institutions. The religious exemption clause has been expanded to include non-profits, universities, and hospitals that object to including contraceptives in their coverage.

These institutions will not be required to provide insurance with this coverage nor will they be mandated to give referrals to women who wish to receive contraceptives. Instead, insurance companies will contact employees individually about contraceptive coverage. This will not cost insurance companies or employers more because the cost of preventive care is almost always less than the cost of treatment.

We at Catholics United see this decision as a win-win for both religious institutions and women’s health advocates. The compromise will remove the obligation from religious institutions to violate their conscience while giving their employees the opportunity to have access to comprehensive care.

This solution is a positive development as it will protect the Catholic identity of religious institutions and individual religious liberties. Women, including non-Catholic employees, will be able to obtain comprehensive health services through their insurance with no co-pay. We hope all sides will accept this ruling as a win to religious liberties and an indication that government is willing to work with all sides to come to a solution.

UPDATE:  Representatives of most of the impacted Catholic agencies have signed off on this accomodation. 


It seems that the President is moving to a fair and reasonable resolution to the issue of the HHS contraception mandate, which this blog has said we feel he has taken the wrong position.  Under discussion is the Hawaii model in which a religious employer is allowed to exclude contraceptive coverage.  However, in Hawaii the employer must inform the employee that they can obtain contraceptive coverage directly from the insurer, if they want it, and the insurer must offer coverage at the price difference between what if offers insurance with and without contraception (since the market price is rarely more, the employee usually pays nothing).  The plan that is under discussion further tweaks the Hawaii plan so that it is the insurance company and not the religious employer that informs the employee of this benefit. 

The Catholic Church in Hawaii has accepted the Hawaii plan when it was enacted in 1999.  Given that reality, it seems that the even more accommodating proposal being discussed solves this problem.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


As Catholics and as supporters of President Obama, we are disappointed in our leaders over the issue of contraception in health care plans offered by parachurch organizations. Contrary to the advice given to him by many of his Catholic supporters, the President allowed the Department of Health and Services to only grant an exemption to the Church herself and not to organizations independent of the Church but who have a Catholic identity such as universities and hospitals. We think this is a mistake and urge the President to reconsider. We also urge our Bishops to use the judicial and legislative process to reverse this rule.

We are also disappointed in one of our bishops, the Most Rev. Robert Morlino of Madison (WI). The State of Wisconsin passed a similar mandate several years ago, but with some exceptions. While Bishop Morlino rightful protested the Wisconsin law, once it was passed, he looked at his options to provide health care to employees with or without contraception. He found it would cost him more money to exclude contraception and therefore took the path of fiscal conservatism rather than Catholic doctrine. 

Actions like this undercut the efforts of lay Catholics to protest the HHS mandate. Morlino did not even make an appeal to the lay faithful of Madison to help cover the higher costs (this was before so many of the Catholics of Madison who are public employees lost pay, benefits and bargaining rights under Governor Walker).

It is our hope that both President Obama and Bishop Morlino would move to a place where they do not disappoint us.

Friday, February 3, 2012


In a new poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, Catholics favor Barack Obama over either Mitt Romney or New Gingrich.  In a match up between Romeny and Obama, 48% of Catholics favored the President and only 40% for Romney.  Obama did even better among Catholics if Gingrich were the GOP candidae.  This continues the strong support Obama received from Catholics in the 2008 Presidential race.  Protestants were less inclined to support the President, with mainline Protestants closely divided, 41% for Obama and 43% for Romney.  Evangelical Protestants favor Romney over Obama 60% to 22%.  Members of African American denominations, Jews and others favored the President by strong margins.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


"When I talk about making sure insurance companies aren't discriminating against those would are already sick, or making sure that unscrupulous lenders are not taking advantage of the most vulnerable among us. I do so because I genuinely believe that it will make the economy stronger for everybody, but I also do it because I know that far too many neighbors in our country have been hurt and treated unfairly over the last few years. And I believe in God's command to love thy neighbor as thyself."

"When I talk about shared responsibility, it's because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling and at a time when we have enormous deficits, it's hard for me to ask seniors on fixed income or young people with student loans or middle class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. I think to myself, if I'm willing to give something up as somebody who's been extraordinarily blessed and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that's going to make economic sense. But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus' teaching that for 'unto whom much is given, much shall be required.' It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who have been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others."

"When I talk about giving every American a fair shot ... it makes economic sense. But part of that belief comes from my faith and the idea that I am my brother's keeper and I am my sister's keeper. As a country, we rise and fall together."

"It is our hope that people of good will can pursue their values and common ground and the common good as best they know how, with respect for each other. And I have to say that sometimes we talk about respect, but we don't act with respect towards each other during the course of these debates"

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Presentation by Catholic Activist for Racial Justice on Feb. 11th

“I am here because I am a Negro, a nun, a Catholic, and because I want to bear witness.” – Sr. Mary Antona Ebo, FSM, on why she marched in Selma

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear from a living legend! Sr. Mary Antona Ebo marched from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. King in 1965.  On Saturday, February 11th, please join Catholic supporters of racial justice and others for afternoon where Sr. Mary Antona Ebo, FSM will share her experience of the Civil Rights Movement and Catholic Social Justice Teaching. The afternoon will begin at 2:00pm at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church and will be followed by the Vigil Mass at 4:30pm. This event is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington Office of Black Catholics and the 4th Degree Knights of St. Peter Claver Ladies of Grace Sr. Mary Antona Ebo Chapter #47.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church is at 1600 Morris Road, SE, Washington, DC.  For more information contact, Deacon Al Turner at