JCM and JFK
Garry Wills, in the latest New York Review of Books, compares the speeches on religion and politics given by J.F. Kennedy and Mitt Romney. Wills maintains that John Courtney Murray was “one of Kennedy’s advisers on his Houston speech” to Baptist ministers. This requires some qualification.
Three months before he died, Murray was asked about what part he might have had in the writing of the speech. In a letter, dated May 19, 1967, Murray replied: “It is true that Sorensen did read to me over the phone the speech that President Kennedy gave in Houston. But it is so long ago that I do not remember any of the details. It may be that I did suggest some changes but I cannot remember what they were. I told Sorensen at the time that it was unfair to ask me for an opinion just on hearing the speech on the phone, but he was standing by the side of a plane just about to take off for Houston. My impression is that Sorensen wrote the speech himself. Undoubtedly it had an effect on its immediate audience and on others and was of assistance to Kennedy. At that, I should say that Kennedy was far more of a ‘separationist’ than I am. In this connection you might look up William Buckley’s review of a book by a man named Fuchs in a recent New York Times Sunday Book Review Section. He compares my views with Kennedy’s on the school question.” (Woodstock College Archives, Georgetown University)
Buckley’s review, which appeared in the Times on May 14, 1967, not only compared but contrasted Kennedy’s view to Murray’s and quoted the latter’s argument that distributive justice required that religious schools receive their fair share of public support for their schools, while in his Houston speech Kennedy had stressed his opposition to such aid. Buckley took some delight in noting the reservations about Kennedy’s speech expressed by Protestant scholars Robert McAfee Brown and Martin Marty, while prominent Catholics mostly “were silent as a tomb.” The best line came from Murray Kempton, written after Kennedy was elected: “We have again been cheated of the prospect of a Catholic President in a nation where religion is so sacred a subject as to be outside the realm of engaged discussion.”
How one could wish that Murray Kempton were still with us, to comment on the present political and cultural scene!