1960 September 7

Protestant Group Attacks John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism


A group of Protestants, which included the well-known Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, issued an attack on this day against Democratic Party presidential candidate John F. Kennedy because of his Roman Catholic faith. The group issued a series of questions to him about how he would respond to certain public policy issues with regard to his faith. A public backlash against the group and its anti-Catholic position led Rev. Peale to quit the group.

The controversy led Kennedy to address the issue of his religion directly. And so on September 12, 1960, he gave a historic speech on religion and politics to a large group of Baptist ministers in Houston, Texas. The speech, arguably the best on the subject by any president or presidential candidate, was a huge success, and it laid to rest the issue of Kennedy’s Catholicism in the election campaign. Kennedy, of course, defeated Richard Nixon in November 1960.

The attacks on Kennedy because of his religion in 1960 recalled the vicious attacks on Democratic Party candidate for president Al Smith in the 1928 election campaign. See April 18, 1927 and September 18, 1928.

Read and hear John F. Kennedy’s speech on religious libertyhttp://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/jfkhoustonministers.html

Learn more: Shaun Casey, The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon, 1960 (2009)

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