The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers

Excerpt, My Day

. . . . At the start of our national election campaign it seemed that every newspaper I read complained about the dullness of the campaigning, that neither candidate seemed to be able to lift it out of the doldrums. The people were not being reached, they said, with anything that really mattered to them.
Since the religious issue was injected, however, by a few clergymen -- some of whom probably thought they were helping the Republicans -- more interest seems to have been aroused. And I was interested to read that Dr. Norman Vincent Peale[1] some days ago disassociated himself from the National Conference of Citizens for Religious Freedom, a group that charged a Roman Catholic President would be under "extreme pressure from the hierarchy of his church" to align the foreign policy of the U.S. with that of the Vatican.
Religious freedom cannot just be Protestant freedom. It must be freedom for all religions. It is a long time since I sat in my office and read the scurrilous literature that came into the Democratic headquarters in Alfred E. Smith's campaign. Nothing quite so bad is reaching me now. But some of the letters sound hysterical and purely emotional.
The question seems to me fairly simple. The Constitution gives us all religious freedom and we are not to be questioned as to our religious beliefs.
Some people maintain that the Catholic Church is not above working to get certain public privileges for its private institutions. This can be done, however, only by the passage of certain laws.
To tell a man he cannot run for any office in this country because he belongs to a certain religion or is a member of another race -- even though he is required to fulfill all the obligations of citizenship, including fighting and dying for his country -- is completely illogical and unconstitutional.
I have fought to prevent the Catholic Church from being granted certain school privileges which I think interfere with our accepted beliefs on the separation of church and state, but I will fight equally hard for the right of any American citizen to serve his country in any capacity.


(Copyright, 1960, by the United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)
     [1.] Dr. Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993), the Methodist minister, radio host and best-selling author who mixed psychological insights with Protestant tenets (as in his three-and-a-half-year bestselling classic The Power of Positive Thinking), was one of the most influential religious leaders of the early Cold War. His weekly audience numbered in the millions and, although he believed that religious leaders should remain outside the political arena, his social conservatism and his firm belief that Kennedy's Catholicism threatened American religious freedom drove him to actively oppose Kennedy's candidacy. In 1960, Peale, a staunch Republican, presided over the September 7th meeting of the National Conference of Citizens for Religious Freedom, a group of prominent Protestant ministers, that drafted the statement that Kennedy's religion made him an unsuitable presidential candidate and publicly declared that he was not sure that a Catholic president could "dissociate himself from the influence of the Pope." Nixon, who had long been a friend of Peale, found the religious issue not only distasteful but "extraneous" and believed that anti-Catholic rhetoric could, in fact, hurt his presidential campaign, encouraged Peale to retract his claims. On September 11th, Nixon then appeared on "Meet the Press" to counteract Peale by stating that he had no doubts about Kennedy's loyalty to the United States, did not believe that Kennedy would be influenced by the Pope, and, furthermore, that religion had no place in politics. The dispute did not hurt the Nixon-Peale friendship and the two remained close friends, especially after Nixon moved to New York City in 1962 after his defeat in the California gubernatorial race and began attending Peale's Marble Collegiate Church. [American National Biography Online. Internet on-line. Available From; Stephen Ambrose, Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), pp. 564-67; Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), pp.188-91.]