At the age of fourteen my first real activist moment was for the election of President John F. Kennedy. Like most young people at the time he inspired me to view the world through different eyes and reminded us of our obligation to make it a better place. As a young man my contributions to his campaign were bumper stickers on cars, volunteering, and huge posters of him on my bedroom wall. That campaign for many of us was a magical moment.There was a dark side intruding into this exciting campaign. Protestant evangelicals were beside themselves at the prospect of a Catholic becoming President. Many people were convinced that Kennedy would take direct orders from the Pope. That his first allegiance was not to his country but to the Catholic Church. People would take the figures on coins and paint with nail polish little red caps on them. Popsicles were known as POPEsicles. The list could go on and on.
The young candidate chose to deal with this issue head-on in a speech to a group of Protestant ministers in Houston on September 12, 1960. In that remarkable speech he gave us words of wisdom that the Catholic Church and the religious right should hear once again as we enter the final days of the marriage debate here in New York.
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew— or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.
Every religious leader who is attempting to impose their personal religious beliefs on the people of New York should read that at least once this weekend. Archbishop Dolan is leading an all out assault attempting to impose the Church's faith-based beliefs on the civil law issue of marriage. Dolan is even telling Catholic legislators how they should vote which is so far from the words of President Kennedy. He is joined by a chorus of right wing ministers who have used every bad argument in the book to justify their actions.
Marriage is a civil issue not a religious issue. No matter how God whispers in their ears His political strategy on legislation it should not affect the rights of others. I will defend their right to make their outrageous and bigoted statements in the name of God but will resist them with every ounce of energy in my tired body if they attempt to make their beliefs policy. Any public official who allows anyone's God to dictate law is opening up a box that can only lead to division, superstition and an uncivil society.
Religion belongs in the places of worship and in the hearts of those who chose to practice their faith. Public policy always must reside in the hearts and minds of people who believe in a just society, equality and freedom.
For more from David visit Live from Hell's Kitchen.