What a difference half a century makes. After the Scopes Monkey Trial, politics had pretty much secularized in the mainstream, until the McCarthy era when political religion was revived in Cold War context and in response to growing culture mediums (rock music, radicals movie makers, etc.). JFK was under a particular pressure as the first (and only) Catholic President with concern over “Papicism” in terms of social democracy (Rerum Novarum specifically, which would figure prominently in the Second Vatican) more paranoid “apostate church” issues. This speech was probably designed to ease concerns that he had been elected as Pope-surrogate.
But for the most part, politics had secularized, until the emergence of the Moral Majority during the Reagan Revolution. Nobody objected to the the notion that a political figures core morality might be rooted in religion, but the concept of a religious political agenda driving electoral campaigns and policy was well out of vogue for two brief decades beginning with JFK. Does anybody remember Ford’s religion? Johnson’s? Some of us touched by anti-war politics might remember that Nixon had been a Quaker largely because of the irony of the situation, and the response from Quakers themselves. But until the 1980s, we really didn’t know our political leaders’ religious affiliations. Now even liberal pols are pretty much forced to proclaim their Christianity in personal and political terms, as the liberal pol’s bonafides on the issue are routinely challenged.
In any case, we certainly would not have seriously entertained proposals for “faith based” public funding of privatized social programs, or “vouchers” for public funding of religious education, or official prayer in schools. It was a brief renaissance in the approach to the Establishment Clause (and yes conservatives, I know that “wall of separation” only appeared in a private letter by Thomas Jefferson).
This speech would be attacked all over Fox News today, and even on the other stations.