Newspaper Articles

Charleston Daily Mail
April 11, 1960

Arrives In City

Kennedy Meets Religious Issue

By Bob Mellace, Daily Mail Political Editor

Sen. John F. Kennedy opened his West Virginia campaign here today and met the so-called religious question head on.

Many great issues will confront the next President of the United States, Kennedy told a cheering audience of Morris Harvey College students, and added:

"I don't happen to believe one of those serious issues is where I go to church on Sunday."

After an address to the students in which he defended the primary system against criticism by former President Truman, Kennedy threw the meeting open for questions.

One of the first was by a local attorney, Walton Shepherd, who wanted to know if the senator's Catholic faith would not present problems to him. Kennedy replied:

"I would not have come here if I felt there was some reason I couldn't answer that question.Nothing in my religious faith prevents me from taking the oath of office. If it did I shouldn't be a senator, I shouldn't have been a congressman, and I shouldn't have been in service."

Unless he believed the people of West Virginia believed in the constitutional provisions for the separation of church and state, and the ban of religious tests for public office, Kennedy said he wouldn't have entered this primary.

Mostly Protestant

Because West Virginia's population is 95 per cent non-Catholic, it has been said his religion will overshadow the merits of the race between Kennedy and Sen. Hubert Humphrey here.

Vice President Marshall Buckalew of the former Methodist, now independent, college told Kennedy that, contrary to what he may have heard, the people of West Virginia "have an open mind in both their politics and their religion."

Shepherd's question was rather involved, and touched upon Kennedy's refusal to attend an interfaith meeting in Philadelphia several years ago. Kennedy's critics said he did not go because he was instructed by a church official to decline.

Kennedy told Shepherd and the students he didn't know it was to be an interfaith meeting and that he didn't know it was to be in a chapel of a non-Catholic church. He said he felt at the time it was improper to go as a representative Catholic, and he believes "I am entitled to go to church where I want."

Gets Big Hand

Judged by the prolonged applause in the auditorium, the students approved the Massachusett's senator's responses.

From the campus he went to the capitol where he held a press conference in the esplanade, drawings crowds of Republican and Democratic statehouse workers. His next stop was Kanawha County courthouse, a lunch at his Kanawha Hotel headquarters, and then to Huntington. Tonight he will campaign in Beckley.

If he loses here, Kennedy said it will make his bid for the nomination difficult and "I recognize it will not be a help on the road to Los Angeles" and the national convention in July.

Kennedy said he wasn't sure the people of West Virginia realized how important this primary is. Despite Truman's crack that all primaries are "eyewash," Kennedy said:

"I believe eyewash is a drink Milwaukee made famous."

While the office of president is far greater than Congress itself, Kennedy said, Americans have primaries for congressmen and conventions for those seeking the presidency. Perhaps a national primary for president is not the answer, "but a combination of conventions and primaries offers a solution to this difficult problem."

In the great struggle for the presidency, Kennedy said he believed the people should participate directly. This may be the worst way to pick a president, Kennedy added, paraphrasing Winston Churchill's definition of democracy, except that it is better than all the other ways that have been tried.

At the capitol, Kennedy said there was a poll taken here, last December, which helped him make up his mind to enter this primary, but that an entirely new situation has been created since that poll.

While there may be a move by other candidates to "gang up" on him here, Kennedy said he hoped the people realize other candidates had an equal opportunity to get into this contest.

Kennedy said he had known for some time that Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia was for Sen. Lyndon Johnson of Texas.

While he would like to be judged against all candidates, Johnson included, Kennedy added he thinks the people of this state will recognize that he and Humphrey voluntarily took on a great burden that Johnson and others did not risk.

That burden is the possibility of defeat.

Kennedy said this state has much in common with his own, to which he devoted 14 years in congress. All his energies were for economic development in Massachusetts, he said, and continued:

"West Virginia, like Massachusetts, needs to build new industries and new jobs - to rebuild its older industries and help its older workers - to build the schools and the highways and the modern parks and cities that will bring new industries in and keep its young people from leaving for other states."

Not a poor state looking for a federal handout, West Virginia is rich in natural and human resources that can be developed, he said, adding:

"That is what I pledged to do for Massachusetts when the pessimists were saying it was all 'washed up' - that is why I have stressed in my Senate work bills for area redevelopment . . . if I should be elected President of the United States, I will work unceasingly for more economic development for West Virginia and for the nation . . .

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