Don't Emulate JFK, Priest Tells Colorado Legislators

Controversy erupted on the floor of the Colorado House April 13 after a Catholic priest encouraged lawmakers to "be the antithesis of John Kennedy." According to the Associated Press, the Rev. Bill Carmody insisted that legislators should vote according to their religious convictions. His opening prayer before the assembly directly criticized President John F. Kennedy's legacy of defending both his Catholic identity and separation of church and state. "Almighty God, please change and convert the hearts of all the representatives in this House. May they be the antithesis of John Kennedy, may they be women and men of God and may their faith influence and guide every vote they make. May God bless this chamber and our state," he said.

Carmody's screed notwithstanding, Kennedy's viewpoint was in keeping with the bedrock principle of church-state separation that is fundamental to American democracy. Kennedy believed "in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute." To JFK, America is a place "where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference." His is a legacy that should be emulated, not condemned.

Kennedy's position was most clearly articulated in a Sept. 12, 1960, address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. The full text and audio of Kennedy's address are available at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.