Senator Ted Kennedy’s 1983 Speech at Liberty University August 27, 2009

Senator Ted Kennedy’s 1983 Speech at Liberty University

I was in bed the other night, checking Twitter one last time before falling asleep. That’s how I learned Senator Ted Kennedy had died. There have been a lot of wonderful things said about him by progressive groups over the past couple days, but I haven’t seen a lot of coverage about one of the speeches he gave.

In 1983, Kennedy spoke at Jerry Falwell‘s Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University). While respectful of religious faith, it was proudly in support of church/state separation and liberal causes. It is funny and honest and not something you hear very often these days.

The entire speech is available online, but here are a few choice excerpts:

Actually, a number of people in Washington were surprised that I was invited to speak here — and even more surprised when I accepted the invitation. They seem to think that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a Kennedy to come to the campus of Liberty Baptist College. In honor of our meeting, I have asked Dr. Falwell, as your Chancellor, to permit all the students an extra hour next Saturday night before curfew. And in return, I have promised to watch the Old Time Gospel Hour next Sunday morning.

The separation of church and state can sometimes be frustrating for women and men of religious faith. They may be tempted to misuse government in order to impose a value which they cannot persuade others to accept. But once we succumb to that temptation, we step onto a slippery slope where everyone’s freedom is at risk. Those who favor censorship should recall that one of the first books ever burned was the first English translation of the Bible. As President Eisenhower warned in 1953, “Don’t join the book burners…the right to say ideas, the right to record them, and the right to have them accessible to others is unquestioned — or this isn’t America.” And if that right is denied, at some future day the torch can be turned against any other book or any other belief. Let us never forget: Today’s Moral Majority could become tomorrow’s persecuted minority.

Those who favor E.R.A [Equal Rights Amendment] are not “antifamily” or “blasphemers.” And their purpose is not “an attack on the Bible.” Rather, we believe this is the best way to fix in our national firmament the ideal that not only all men, but all people are created equal. Indeed, my mother, who strongly favors E.R.A., would be surprised to hear that she is anti-family. For my part, I think of the amendment’s opponents as wrong on the issue, but not as lacking in moral character.

Talk about being able to reach across the aisles… that’s impressive.

While I enjoyed reading the speech, it was even better to listen to. You can download audio of the speech here (MP3).

(via Center for Inquiry)

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  • ATL-Apostate

    He was definitely at his best in the 80’s with Reagan as a foil. Seems like as he aged, his speeches got more blustery and difficult to follow. Thanks for posting that speech, Hemant.

    RIP, Ted.

  • Gabemik

    In much the same way that current generations will always see Nichole when they look at OJ, I’ve never been able to look at Ted without seeing Mary Jo.

  • llewelly

    ERA: Killed by Mormons.
    Much like they are trying to kill rights for gays today.

  • keddaw

    No mention of his fund raising for ‘Irish causes’???

    His support of terrorism (IRA) should not detract from his deeds, but should take some of the lustre off the glowing praise he is currently receiving. Not to mention his driving incident…

  • Jon

    What does it mean when an athiest says RIP?

    @Gabemik – I agree. Athiest or not, how can anyone celebrate the life and accomplishments of an unabashed murderer?

    You see, separation of church and state sounds like such a wonderful idea. The problem is that sometimes the ideas of various groups are in direct opposition to one another, which means that there is no way for the government to stay out of it.

    So, the best we’ll ever be able to do is a ‘mostly separate’ church and state.

    The modern interpretation of “separation of church and state” isn’t tied to anything in the constitution and goes against the idea as our founding fathers understood it.

  • Jon

    His support of terrorism (IRA) should not detract from his deeds

    WHAT?

  • medussa

    Jon, exactly what values do you think couldn’t be reconciled without religion? I’m curious, because to me religion is most often the cause of strife, not the solution.
    The groups that are in direct opposition to each other are groups that seem to believe their version of the interpretation of some ancient text ought to be a prescription for life for everyone else. Take that text out of the equation, and people can talk rationally about their differences.

    As for the “modern interpretation of church and state”, you’re right, the texts that this is based on are also over 200 years old (much younger than those sacred texts), so of course it means something different now. For example, back then “all men being created equal” only referred to white, property owning men, while today that meaning has changed. We call this progress.
    The Constitution was meant to be a vehicle to balance out powers, not allowing any one power to have undue influence on the government. That includes religion, and a separation of government and religion was very intentional, for good reason. The writers of the Constitution were very educated men, and they were familiar with the excesses of power that Christianity had exercised all over Europe, every time churches were given a chance. They didn’t intend to get rid of religion, just to keep it as a personal faith (or lack thereof), so no one would be oppressed by religious mandates they didn’t choose to follow.

  • I’m very saddened by the loss of my senator. I actually wrote a brief article about Sen. Kennedy’s staunch support of church-state seperation.

    Link

  • ATL-Apostate

    RIP = rest in peace. But for me, it doesn’t carry some religious overtone. I simply think of it as something nice to say about someone who has died. Is he resting, no, he’s dead, but now’s not the time to get technical with folks who may be mourning the loss of a beloved person. It’s diplomatic, doesn’t offend, and doesn’t overtly promote magical thinking.

    It’s far better than, “he’s in a better place.” Unless of course, you think a box covered with dirt, or a refrigerator at the morgue is, in fact, a better place than Hyannis Port (which I don’t).

  • Demetrius Of Pharos

    @ keddaw:

    No mention of his fund raising for ‘Irish causes’??? His support of terrorism (IRA) should not detract from his deeds…

    This was discussed in comments at pharyngula and shot down as rumor (by the original poster, no less), so I can only say this: prove it.

    Ted Kennedy has died

  • Miko

    Those who favor censorship should recall that one of the first books ever burned was the first English translation of the Bible.

    Can anyone verify this? I would have thought that the German translation of the Bible was being burned much earlier.

    @keddaw: Setting aside issues of whether this is a rumor, isn’t it curious that we call the IRA actions in Ireland terrorism, but neglect to label the actions of the British government in Ireland as terrorism? I don’t approve of much of what the IRA does, but they’re still the lesser of two evils.

  • Jon

    I’m very saddened by the loss of my senator. I actually wrote a brief article about Sen. Kennedy’s staunch support of church-state seperation.

    Shouldn’t this read “I’m very sadded by the loss of my senator a murderer.”?

  • Jon

    Jon, exactly what values do you think couldn’t be reconciled without religion?

    Most values. If you have one value, you are from one religion. If you have another value, you are from another religion. If you have a third value, you are from a third religion.

    There is no escaping religion, whether you call it christianity, islam, jewish, athiesm, agnosticism, secularism.

    Someone always wins and someone always loses. Since the government has to exist it has to exist in the framework of some religion.

  • Jon

    I simply think of it as something nice to say about someone who has died. Is he resting, no, he’s dead.

    You are probably correct that given all the nefarious activity he has been involved in, he is probably not resting in the afterlife.

  • Jon

    The Constitution was meant to be a vehicle to balance out powers, not allowing any one power to have undue influence on the government.

    such as athiesm, secularism, or irreligion.

  • ChameleonDave

    such as athiesm [sic], secularism, or irreligion.

    No, such as atheism, Christianity or Judaism.

    The ‘Free Exercise’ clause protects religion, and the ‘Establishment’ clause protects atheism, as well as protecting each religion from the others.

    This non-partisan approach can be called secularism (although an atheist constitution would also be secular; the point is that religion doesn’t have the State in its clutches).

  • Ted Kennedy, for better or worse, he spent half a decade as a servant to the people who elected him. Here is a great list of his most prominent quotes.

    Ted Kennedy Quotes