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Narrative: Anti-Catholicism in the United States


During the 20th century, there were many movements against discrimination based on race, and cultures. With the new wave of immigration at the turn of the 20th century the United States became the melting pot of the world. Although these things are prominently discussed in classrooms and lectures across America, one thing that is usually not discussed is the Anti-Catholic sentiment that ran through parts of America and even affected some major political outcomes.

            In 1928, Al Smith became the first Roman Catholic to win a major party nomination for President. He was running against Republican Herbert Hoover. Al Smith was a former Governor of New York. Although no one can say that his Catholic beliefs lost him the election, they did severely hurt his chances. **SEE CARTOON 1*** Many Protestants feared that Smith would take orders from church leaders in Rome in making decisions affecting the country.

            Nearly 40 years later, John F. Kennedy (JFK) became the first (and so far the only) Roman Catholic to win the American Presidency. There was a great prejudice against his catholic background at the time. **SEE PARTICIPANT ACCOUNT 1*** Many in the public expressed concern that JFK would answer to the Pope in Rome rather do what was best for the country and that the separation of Church and State would be compromised.

            During his campaign in September of 1960, JFK gave a speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association that he is famously remembered for, that outlines his belief in the separation of Church and State, and promises to uphold the wishes and needs of his country not of the Vatican. He famously was quoted as saying, “I do not speak for the church and the church does not speak for me.” **SEE PARTICPANT ACCOUNT 2***

            Although Kennedy addressed these issues head on there was still a large loss of protestant support for the new President in his early days in office that can be attributed to his Catholicism

            Al Smith and John F. Kennedy are just two examples of how Anti Catholic sentiment in America became an obstacle to deal with in their political careers. There is some evidence that due to contemporary issues surrounding the Catholic Church, there is still lingering anti catholic sentiment in the US.

In May 2006, a Gallup poll found 30% of Americans had an unfavorable view of the church. The Catholic Church's doctrines, and the priest sex abuse scandal were top issues for those who disapproved.

In April 2008, Gallup found that the number of Americans saying they have a positive view of U.S. Catholics had shrunk again.

The underlying question remains whether or not this type of sentiment will diminish? And although there is varying disapproval of the Catholic Church does that disapproval affect voters today?


Catholic Voter


Created by Courtney Barton and Emily Rogillio on 11/10/09. Email
Update on 11/10/09.

Statement: We are teacher education candidtates at the University of Texas at Austin completeing our Student as Historian assignment in order to meet course requirements for Seconday Social Studies Methods.