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Meditation 1325
President Kennedy Was Right

by: Edwina Rogers, CEO, Secular Policy Institute

The following is an extract from Edwina Rogers' weekly newsletter (28 July 2016) to supporters and member organizations of the Secular Policy Institute.

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It is appropriate that we address our concerns on the DNC's email scandal in which Senator Bernie Sanders' religion (or lack thereof) was being considered[1] as fodder to engage antisemitic and anti-Atheist sentiment among likely, and registered Democratic Party voters. 

As many secular organizations have expressed discontent with the reveal of Democratic National Committee CFO Brad Marshall's exploration into using the questioning of Senator Bernie Sander's lack of religion as a political tool I offer some extended thoughts on the matter in relation to secular society, government, and electoral integrity.

The Democratic Party’s 1960 presidential candidate John Kennedy faced much criticism for being Catholic. Addressing these concerns, then Senator Kennedy gave a speech chiding the political discourse of the day. Kennedy said that the real issues of crisis facing the world were not religious ones, “for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers.” Kennedy added that if the outcome of the election was based upon the real issues then a candidate would lose, but if people lost the chance to become President at baptism, the entire country would lose. Now a hacker’s (Guccifer 2.0) leak shed light where staffers at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) were considering the undermining of Senator Bernie Sander’s primary bid by having people publicly question Senator Sanders’ religious affiliation and cultural heritage. The Secular Policy Institute encourages all political parties in the United States to take this advice from a candidate, and all voters to heed the warning of their former President.

While many candidates will wear religious affiliation on their sleeve often to garner electoral support, Sanders has been relatively silent in keeping this a mostly private matter. Admittedly these types of tactics of playing against a candidate’s presumed religion (or lack thereof) and other forms misdirection are par for the course, but the American people deserve a better class of campaign management.

In the 1928 presidential election when former New York governor Al Smith was the first Catholic to receive a major party’s nomination, nativist groups called him a “puppet of Rome,” with one Presbyterian minister holding a 5,000-strong anti-Smith “Stand Up For Jesus” Rally. Against the anti-Catholic backdrop of 1960, Kennedy’s wife Jacqueline said “I think it’s so unfair of people to be against Jack because he’s a Catholic. He’s such a poor Catholic.” In the 1988 election, implicit appeals toward racial animus were used against the Democratic Party’s Candidate Michael Dukakis. While Dukakis was the governor of the State of Massachusetts, he presided over a weekend furlough program in which one inmate committed rape on his brief break from prison. George H.W. Bush’s campaign staff set to present William Horton as “Willie” in order to make Horton seem more “black,” more menacing. Today with Atheism being seen as a menacing, publicly proliferated ideology, this tactic against Atheism is unfortunate yet not unexpected.

The use of these tactics foments division and discord against non-believers and evades the substantive issues of critical importance. Fortunately the laws of the United States from the First Amendment and Article VI Section 3 stating that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States” preserves a public-service opening for all regardless of religious affiliation or none at all. We at the secular policy institute believe that no person is more or less qualified as a result of religious belief. Rather, the content of their character and commitment to human rights are true qualifications. We resent any attempts to supersede principles of democratic values on the basis of discriminatory exclusion. Returning to President Kennedy’s Rice Hotel speech, “[We] believe in an America where the separation of Church and State is absolute;” “In an America that is neither officially Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish,” and an “America where religious intolerance will someday end--where all men and all churches are treated as equal--where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice.”


  1. WikiLeaks: Democratic Party officials appear to discuss using Sanders’s faith against him, Washington Post, July 22, 2016


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