Houston Reactions

September 30, 2010

My recent Houston Chronicle column on John F. Kennedy's famous speech on religion and politics has sparked a couple of responses. The column, which was entitled "Kennedy speech eloquently balanced religion, politics," coincided with the fifty anniversary of a speech Kennedy delivered in Houston. Although my column praised Kennedy's approach to religion and politics, a letter to the editor in the Houston Chronicle argued that Kennedy was wrong. John Hittinger, director of The Pope John Paul II Forum at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, argued:

The lasting impact of the Kennedy speech is an unfortunate undermining of the essential role that faith has successfully played in America because it reduces religion to mere personal "belief."
The problem with Hittinger's argument is that it is historically inaccurate. Today's presidential candidates have completely repudiated Kennedy's approach, which I document in my forthcoming book (Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics). When political leaders today talk about religion and politics, they do so in a way that is dramatically different than how Kennedy did. Thus, it is odd to blame someone who no longer serves as the guiding model. Hittinger's group was one of the cosponsors for the recent speech former Republican Senator Rick Santorum (who is considering a long-shot presidential bid) gave in Houston attacking Kennedy's speech. Santorum made the same basic mistake, which I critiqued in an earlier post.

Taking a different approach, the current issue of Church & State (the publication of Americans United for Separation of Church and State) favorably quoted my column in an article about the anniversary of Kennedy's speech. The article provides good background to Kennedy's speech and covers the diversity of opinions about it today.