WASHINGTON (CNN) -- During the 1960 presidential election, Theodore Sorensen helped then-Sen. John F. Kennedy draft a speech addressing Kennedy's Catholicism and the separation between church and state. At the time, many questioned whether Kennedy, who would go on to become the nation's first Roman Catholic president, would be influenced by the Catholic church.
Theodore Sorensen helped write John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech on Catholicism.
Speaking to CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider, Sorensen discussed Kennedy's famous 1960 speech and compared it to the speech on faith in politics delivered Thursday by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who would be the first Mormon in the White House if he is elected.
Question: Did Kennedy's 1960 speech win him the presidency?
Sorensen: Well, he obviously didn't lose it, nor did he free the country from the curse of anti-Catholicism. The hate mail still poured into his office. The vicious picket signs were still seen out on the campaign trail, and, indeed, on Election Day. According to a University of Michigan survey, more people voted against Kennedy because of his religion than any other reason. Nevertheless, that speech, which was nationally broadcast and frequently rebroadcast, certainly took a lot of the poison out of the anti-Catholic issue and reassured all reasonable people. Watch Sorensen discuss why Kennedy gave his speech »
Q. Could President Kennedy have delivered the speech Romney gave on Thursday?
Sorensen: No. Mr. Romney's position on many of the issues are very different than JFK's. JFK wanted to particularly stress that he believed in the separation between church and state. He believed that no one needed to worry about a Catholic bishop or a cardinal dictating to him as a president, and that freedom of religion included freedom for those to go to any church or not to go to any church at all. So, Romney emphasized the role of religion in public life more strongly than JFK did or would have.
Q. Romney seemed to differ quite strongly with Kennedy on the privacy of religion, didn't he?
Sorensen: Yes, he did. In fact, Romney felt compelled for some reason to define his personal views of Jesus Christ. Kennedy said, as you noted, his personal views of religion were totally his business and not the business of the American people.
Q. Romney made the statement "freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." Do you think Kennedy would have agreed with that?
Sorensen: I don't think anyone would disagree strongly with that. There were some lines in the Romney speech that echoed the Kennedy speech. As an old speechwriter, I would congratulate Mr. Romney. It was a pretty good speech. I think he touched all the bases he wanted to touch.
Q. Romney discussed his views of Jesus Christ, something that Kennedy avoided. Why did Kennedy avoid discussing his religious views?
Sorensen: Because [Kennedy] began the speech by saying his private religious beliefs -- his relationship with God or Jesus Christ or anything else -- was not a matter of public discussion. He did not think the election should be based on -- as he said, it's not what kind of church I believe in, the question is what kind of country do I believe in.
Q. Kennedy's speech in 1960 is widely viewed as being successful. Do you think Romney's speech is likely to be viewed as a success?
Sorensen: I assume so. I don't think Mr. Romney should be denied the presidency because of his religion. Just as I don't think Senator [Barack] Obama should be denied because of his race. Or that Mrs. [Hillary] Clinton should be denied the presidency because of her gender. This country is in deep, serious trouble, and thoughtful citizens surely are going to make up their minds based on the major issues confronting the country and the major qualities of the candidates and not on such superficial tests as religion, race, or gender. E-mail to a friend
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