Sarah Palin vs. John F. Kennedy On Separation of Church and State

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has challenged Sarah Palin’s lack of religious tolerance and failure to support our Constitutional guarantees of separation of church and state in an op-ed in The Washington Post. This was in response to Palin’s criticism of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech which explained the separation of his private religious beliefs from his public policy positions as a potential president:

Palin’s argument seems to challenge a great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, stipulating that there be no religious test for public office. A careful reading of her book leads me to conclude that Palin wishes for precisely such a test. And she seems to think that she, and those who think like her, are qualified to judge who would pass and who would not.

If there is no religious test, then there is no need for a candidate’s religious affiliation to be “reconciled.” My uncle urged that religion be private, removed from politics, because he feared that making faith an arena for public contention would lead American politics into ill-disguised religious warfare, with candidates tempted to use faith to manipulate voters and demean their opponents.

Kennedy cited Thomas Jefferson to argue that, as part of the American tradition, it was essential to keep any semblance of a religious test out of the political realm. Best to judge candidates on their public records, their positions on war and peace, jobs, poverty, and health care. No one, Kennedy pointed out, asked those who died at the Alamo which church they belonged to…

She continued to contrast Kennedy’s position with Palin’s preferred position as promoted by Mitt Romney which was contrary to the views of the founding fathers:

Palin praises Romney for delivering a “thoughtful speech that eloquently and correctly described the role of faith in American public life.” But if there should be no religious test in politics, then why should a candidate feel compelled to respond to misplaced questions about his belief in Jesus?

When George Romney, Mitt Romney’s father, was a presidential candidate in 1968, he felt no such compulsion. Respect for the Constitution and the founders’ belief in the separation of church and state suggests that those kinds of questions should not play a role in political campaigns.

Palin contends that Kennedy sought to “run away from religion.” The truth is that my uncle knew quite well that what made America so special was its revolutionary assertion of freedom of religion. No nation on Earth had ever framed in law that faith should be of no interest to government officials. For centuries, European authorities had murdered and tortured those whose religious beliefs differed from their own.

To demand that citizens display their religious beliefs attacks the very foundation of our nation and undermines the precise reason that America is exceptional.

Palin’s book makes clear just how dangerous her proposed path can be. Not only does she want people to reveal their beliefs, but she wants to sit in judgment of them if their views don’t match her own. For instance, she criticizes Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), a Democrat and a faithful Catholic, for “talking the (God) talk but not walking the walk.”

Who is Palin to say what God’s “walk” is? Who anointed her our grand inquisitor?

This is a woman who also praises Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, even though Lincoln explicitly declared, “But let us judge not that we not be judged.” The problem for those setting up a free-floating tribunal to evaluate faith is that, contrary to Lincoln, they are installing themselves as judges who can look into others’ souls and assess their worthiness.

Townsend wrote further on the importance of separation of church and state:

John F. Kennedy knew that tearing down the wall separating church and state would tempt us toward self-righteousness and contempt for others. That is one reason he delivered his Houston speech.

Palin, for her part, argues that “morality itself cannot be sustained without the support of religious beliefs.” That statement amounts to a wholesale attack on countless Americans, and no study or reasonable argument I have seen or heard would support such a blanket condemnation. For a person who claims to admire Lincoln, Palin curiously ignores his injunction that Americans, even those engaged in a Civil War, show “malice toward none, with charity for all.”

Palin fails to understand the genius of our nation. The United States is one of the most vibrant religious countries on Earth precisely because of its religious freedom. When power and faith are entwined, faith loses. Power tends to obfuscate, corrupt and focus on temporal rather than eternal purposes.

Somehow Palin misses this. Perhaps she didn’t read the full Houston speech; she certainly doesn’t know it by heart. Or she may be appealing to a religious right that really seeks secular power. I don’t know.

I am certain, however, that no American political leader should cavalierly – or out of political calculation – dismiss the hard-won ideal of religious freedom that is among our country’s greatest gifts to the world. As John F. Kennedy said in Houston, that is the “kind of America I believe in.”

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  1. 1
    Patrice says:

    Do you think Palin has ever read (much less understood) Article VI of the United States Constitution wherein it states “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; BUT NO RELIGIOUS TEST shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
    John F. Kennedy, in his Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960, said, “[N]either 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.”

  2. 2
    auntieeminaz says:

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  3. 3
    Paul smith says:

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  4. 4
    sherlock says:

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  5. 5
    Simon Says says:

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  6. 6
    Madison Carrington says:

    RT @RonChusid: Sarah Palin vs. John F. Kennedy On Separation of Church and State #p2 #p21 #topprog

  7. 7
    2012Palin says:

    » Sarah Palin vs. John F. Kennedy On Separation of Church and …: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has challenged Sara…

  8. 8
    Jymn says:

    First, Palin did not write the book. Second, who cares what she thinks even if she did?

  9. 9
    allen emmall says:

    "Sarah Palin vs. John F. Kennedy On Separation of Church and State" and related posts

  10. 10
    48742 says:

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