Michael Gaynor
On religion and politics: Palin, yes! ACORN apologist KKT, no!
By Michael Gaynor
December 6, 2010

It appears that Palin, not KKT, understands what America was created to be. Palin rightly rejects secular extremism, not the First Amendment's Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. JFK plays politics with religion, and ACORN apologist KKT stooped to revisionist history, hypocrisy, spin and silliness to try to discredit Palin.

For decades, ACORN served as an unofficial arm of the Democrat Party. At its 39th — and last — anniversary celebration, ACORN honored three Congressional Democrats — Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California, On Election Day 2010 ACORN filed for bankruptcy liquidation, but ACORN operatives and members have not vanished. All those honorees were re-elected. Many other ACORN allies remain in office, including President Barack Obama.

President Obama noticed the election returns and is trying to appear more moderate, while radicals help by criticizing him a bit from the Left.

In his first Thanksgiving Proclamation, President Obama left out God. No surprise from a fellow who privately told supporters that economically challenged Americans cling to God (and guns) out of bitterness and leaves out a reference to "the Creator" when he mentions those "inalienable rights" proclaimed in America's Declaration of Independence.

But, President Obama still wants to be re-elected after taking a shellacking in the 2010 election, so last month...GOD MADE A COMEBACK IN THE ANNUAL PRESIDENTIAL THANKSGIVING PROCLAMATION!

That's not enough, of course. The Obama magic stopped working. Most Americans do — or soon will — realize that "progressives" like President Obama are secular extremists and, as such, are not representative of America.

So ACORN apologist Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a failed Democrat gubernatorial candidate, just wrote an article for the Washington Post titled "Sarah Palin is wrong about John F. Kennedy, religion and politics" (www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/03/AR2010120303209_2.html?sid=ST2010120305853).

Team Obama is taking Palin seriously, and thus a female Kennedy is targeting Palin.

KKT waited until the second sentence to note that she is a niece of the late President John F. Kennedy and then proceeded to castigate Palin for sharing her views on JFK's 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association.

Praise would be welcome, but not criticism.

In her latest book Palin praised Mitt Romney for his speech on government and religion during the last presidential campaign.

Palin and Romney believe that religious values properly inform public policy and freedom of religion is not freedom from religion.

They are right.

Palin had the temerity to blow the whistle on the public school indoctrination to which she was subjected on the JFK speech.

KKT put it this way: "Palin writes that when she was growing up, she was taught that Kennedy's speech had 'succeeded in the best possible way: It reconciled public service and religion without compromising either.' Now, however, she says she has revisited the speech and changed her mind. She finds it 'defensive . . . in tone and content' and is upset that Kennedy, rather than presenting a reconciliation of his private faith and his public role, had instead offered an 'unequivocal divorce of the two.'"

Palin is right. The Constitution was intended to provide for institutional separation of church and state, not to mandate governmental neutrality between religion and irreligion.

KKT: "Palin's argument seems to challenge a great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, stipulating that there be no religious test for public office. A careful reading of her book leads me to conclude that Palin wishes for precisely such a test. And she seems to think that she, and those who think like her, are qualified to judge who would pass and who would not."

That's sheer political spin: Palin has not called for amending the Constitution to prescribe a religious test for office.

KKT: "If there is no religious test, then there is no need for a candidate's religious affiliation to be 'reconciled.'"

KKT needs to read Article VI of the Constitution.

Article VI specifies that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

That means that a person otherwise qualified (for example, old enough) cannot be disqualified based on his or her religion or lack of religion.

It does NOT mean that voters are obligated to ignore the religion or lack of religion of candidates, just as voters can consider the race or sex of candidates.

It's up to the voters. The Constitution prescribes some qualifications for candidates, but it does not presume to tell voters how to decide whom to support. Catholic voters gave 80% of their votes to Al Smith in 1928 and 78% to JFK in 1960, baptized Catholics both. In 2008, 95% of black voters voted for President Obama. The voters may consider — or refuse to consider — as they choose, and either take, or not take, a candidate's religion, race, sex, height, weight, hair or alma mater into account in voting.

KKT: "My uncle urged that religion be private, removed from politics, because he feared that making faith an arena for public contention would lead American politics into ill-disguised religious warfare, with candidates tempted to use faith to manipulate voters and demean their opponents."

The First Amendment (not JFK) prohibited the establishment of a national religion, but it simultaneously protected the free exercise of religion, thereby confirming that religious values are supposed to be welcome in the public arena and may inform public policy insofar as a national religion is not established.

KKT: "Kennedy cited Thomas Jefferson to argue that, as part of the American tradition, it was essential to keep any semblance of a religious test out of the political realm. Best to judge candidates on their public records, their positions on war and peace, jobs, poverty, and health care. No one, Kennedy pointed out, asked those who died at the Alamo which church they belonged to."

But Jefferson's idea of separation of church and state was not as extreme as KKT and her ilk would have us believe. Jefferson stated in an 1802 letter to a Baptist group that "the whole American people...declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state." That much quoted statement has been misinterpreted as a prohibition against government acknowledging God and supporting religion generally instead of only a protection of churches from governmental interference. The "wall of separation" that Jefferson contemplated was a wall that keeps government from interfering with religious freedom, not a wall that keeps any religious expression out of schools, courthouses and other public places. Jefferson's own preamble to the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom explicitly acknowledged "Almighty God" as "the Holy Author of our religion" and "Lord both of body and mind."

Jefferson did not tell voters that they had to disregard either their own religious values or a candidate's religion or lack of religion in voting and did not envision that the institutional separation he had in mind would ever be expanded to prohibit the United States from making reasonable accommodations to religion and recognizing God on its currency, in its courts or in its classrooms. Jefferson's own actions as President demonstrate that his words were misinterpreted. As President, Jefferson attended voluntary and nondiscriminatory religious services held at the Capitol (as did President Madison). In 1803, Jefferson called on Congress to approve a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians that provided for the United States to pay a Catholic missionary priest $100 a year. It was not an oversight. Jefferson later recommended two other Indian treaties with similar provisions. Jefferson also extended three times a pre-Constitution act that had designated lands "[f]or the sole use of Christian Indians and the Moravian Brethen missionaries for civilizing the Indians and promoting Christianity." Jefferson obviously thought that "establishment of religion" requires much more, as Senate and House committees reported before the Civil War.

KKT: "...Palin insists on evaluating and acting as an authority on candidates' faith. She faults Kennedy for not 'telling the country how his faith had enriched him.' With that line, she proceeds down a path fraught with danger — precisely the path my uncle warned against when he said that a president's religious views should be 'neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.'"

It is KKT who is intolerant. She is insisting that Palin share her uncle's opinion!

KKT: "After all, a candidate's faith will matter most to those who believe that they have the right to serve as arbiters of that faith. Is it worthy? Is it deep? Is it reflected in a certain ideology?"

Character matters, and faith may bear upon character, especially when a person is a hypocrite. Atheists are entitled to prefer other atheists, and believers are entitled to prefer believers. Faith need not be hidden in a closet or under a bushel basket.

KKT: "Palin further criticizes Kennedy because, 'rather than spelling out how faith groups had provided life-changing services and education to millions of Americans, he repeatedly objected to any government assistance to religious schools.' She does not seem to appreciate that Kennedy was courageous in arguing that government funds should not be used in parochial schools, despite the temptation to please his constituents. Many Catholics would have liked the money. But he wisely thought that the use of public dollars in places where nuns explicitly proselytized would be unconstitutional. Tax money should not be used to persuade someone to join a religion."

Tax money should not be used to persuade someone to join a religion, but religious schools teach much more than religion, and government should not promote atheism by discouraging religion. America's Founders recognized the importance of religion. John Adams wrote in 1813 that "[t]he general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were . . . the general principles of Christianity . . . ." America's greatest chief justice, John Marshall, proclaimed in 1833: "The American population is entirely Christian, and with us Christianity and Religion are identified. It would be strange indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not often refer to it, and exhibit relations to it." Marshall's statement was not literally true, of course; Americans were not even then entirely Christian. But Marshall's point was that Americans were a people of faith and their government should recognize it, not discourage it.

The thought of Palin and Romney on the same page seems to have distressed KKT.

KKT: "As a contrast to Kennedy's speech, Palin cites former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's remarks during the 2008 Republican primary campaign, in which he spoke publicly of 'how my own faith would inform my presidency, if I were elected."'After paying lip service to the separation of church and state, Romney condemned unnamed enemies 'intent on establishing a new religion in America — the religion of secularism.'

For KKT, less than absolute separation of church and state apparently is "lip service."

Palin and Romney together seem to make KKT very nervous, and KKT is harsher on Palin!


"'There is one fundamental question about which I am often asked,' Romney said. 'What do I believe about Jesus Christ?' Romney, of course, is a Mormon. He answered the question, proclaiming that 'Jesus Christ is the son of God.'

"Palin praises Romney for delivering a 'thoughtful speech that eloquently and correctly described the role of faith in American public life.' But if there should be no religious test in politics, then why should a candidate feel compelled to respond to misplaced questions about his belief in Jesus?"

Why should KKT be upset that Romney proclaimed that "Jesus Christ is the son of God"?

Could it be that KKT does not want people calling attention to the hypocrisy of those she supports politically?

KKT seems to have appointed herself the "arbiter" of whether questions are "misplaced"!

KKT: "Palin contends that Kennedy sought to 'run away from religion.' The truth is that my uncle knew quite well that what made America so special was its revolutionary assertion of freedom of religion. No nation on Earth had ever framed in law that faith should be of no interest to government officials. For centuries, European authorities had murdered and tortured those whose religious beliefs differed from their own."

First, JFK sought to win the presidency and did so (barely) by winning a much higher percentage of Protestant voters than his opponent (Richard Nixon) got from Catholic voters.

Second, freedom of religion did not mean that religious values should not inform public policy.

KKT: "To demand that citizens display their religious beliefs attacks the very foundation of our nation and undermines the precise reason that America is exceptional."

Who is demanding that CITIZENS "display their religious beliefs"?

In America, voters can ask whatever questions of candidates that they want. The Constitution does not prohibit any question, and the Kennedys can't.

KKT: "Palin's book makes clear just how dangerous her proposed path can be. Not only does she want people to reveal their beliefs, but she wants to sit in judgment of them if their views don't match her own. For instance, she criticizes Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), a Democrat and a faithful Catholic, for 'talking the (God) talk but not walking the walk.'"

Palin's dangerous to secular extremists who warp the Constitution!

KKT wants to stop Palin from asking and opining, but SHE freely opined that Pelosi is "a Democrat and a faithful Catholic."

Pelosi IS a Democrat, of course, but hardly "a faithful Catholic." Pro-abortion "Catholics" like Pelosi (and KKT) are political pretenders, NOT faithful Catholics.

KKT: "Who is Palin to say what God's 'walk' is? Who anointed her our grand inquisitor?"

Like every American, Palin's entitled to her opinion. KKT, apparently Palin's self-appointed "grand inquisitor," should not pretend otherwise. (She has to know that in addition to freedom of religion, the First Amendment protects freedom of speech and press and Palin does not dispense legal punishment.)

KKT: "This is a woman who also praises Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural, even though Lincoln explicitly declared, 'But let us judge not that we not be judged.' The problem for those setting up a free-floating tribunal to evaluate faith is that, contrary to Lincoln, they are installing themselves as judges who can look into others' souls and assess their worthiness."

But voters MUST judge candidates as best they can, and Palin is only calling for evaluation of candidates and ideas, not telling people that they are not entitled to their opinions or to ask questions.

KKT: "Kennedy did not and would not do that, but not because he was indifferent to faith. In fact, unlike Romney or Palin, in fealty to both his faith and the Constitution, he promised on that day in Houston that he would resign if his religion ever interfered with his duty as president."

More judging by KKT! Fortunately, the Catholic faith and the Constitution are compatible!

KKT also whined that "Palin presumes to judge that [Ted Kennedy] took positions 'directly at odds with his Catholic faith.'"


KKT: "Palin, for her part, argues that 'morality itself cannot be sustained without the support of religious beliefs.' That statement amounts to a wholesale attack on countless Americans, and no study or reasonable argument I have seen or heard would support such a blanket condemnation. For a person who claims to admire Lincoln, Palin curiously ignores his injunction that Americans, even those engaged in a Civil War, show 'malice toward none, with charity for all.'"

KKT, meet Founders John Adams and Gouvernor Morris.

Adams: "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

Morris: "Religion is the only solid Base of morals and Morals are the only possible Support of free governments." On that basis, Morris called for education to "teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man to God."


"Palin fails to understand the genius of our nation. The United States is one of the most vibrant religious countries on Earth precisely because of its religious freedom. When power and faith are entwined, faith loses. Power tends to obfuscate, corrupt and focus on temporal rather than eternal purposes.

"Somehow Palin misses this. Perhaps she didn't read the full Houston speech; she certainly doesn't know it by heart. Or she may be appealing to a religious right that really seeks secular power. I don't know.

"I am certain, however, that no American political leader should cavalierly — or out of political calculation — dismiss the hard-won ideal of religious freedom that is among our country's greatest gifts to the world. As John F. Kennedy said in Houston, that is the 'kind of America I believe in.'"

It appears that Palin, not KKT, understands what America was created to be. Palin rightly rejects secular extremism, not the First Amendment's Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. JFK plays politics with religion, and ACORN apologist KKT stooped to revisionist history, hypocrisy, spin and silliness to try to discredit Palin.

© Michael Gaynor


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)


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