September 20, 1960
NEW YORK—There are two really exciting things being read about and talked about by nearly everyone in our country at the present time. One is the current session of the United Nations and the other is our national election campaign.
The opening of the U.N.'s fifteenth regular session of the general assembly saw more heads of state in attendance than any opening session ever had before. Premier Nikita Khrushchev started this movement off some time ago by announcing he would come, and his cohorts from Eastern Europe, as well as Premier Fidel Castro of Cuba, fell in line.
Whether Mr. Khrushchev had in mind that in this way he would hold another summit meeting within the confines of the U.N. or whether he thought that his coming here might be embarrassing to the United States no one of us can know.
Certainly, the control of the confused conditions coming about in some of the new African states will give Mr. Khrushchev ample opportunity to moralize and to appear as a friend of this or that African group, whichever he decides he would like to promote. He also may have in the back of his mind that he can exert influence on Central and South American delegates and make matters even worse than they are where Mr. Castro is concerned!
For all these reasons this session promises to be an explosive and intriguing comedy to watch and which may have some tragic tones here and there.
It certainly looks as though Mr. Khrushchev will attempt to reach and draw into the cold war orbit not only the new states of Africa but any other parts of the world he is able to attract to himself.
None of us outsiders will be able to hear anything that goes on in the U.N.—except for spot radio and television coverage—because the sessions will be closed to the public until September 30. The decision to keep vast throngs away from the U.N. building was made for the same reason that certain of our current visitors are confined to Manhattan Island.
In the case of Mr. Khrushchev I wish we had asked him privately if, for safety's sake, he would stay within these narrow limits, because it seems silly to tell a man who has been all over the U.S. that he can now only remain in one small area. But I realize why the security problem is particularly difficult in regard to some of the other people such as Janos Kadar, Hungarian Communist leader.
At the start of our national election campaign it seemed that every newspaper I read complained about the dullness of the campaigning that neither candidate seemed to be able to lift it out of the doldrums. The people were not being reached, they said, with anything that really mattered to them.
Since the religious issue was injected, however, by a few clergymen—some of whom probably thought they were helping the Republicans—more interest seems to have been aroused. And I was interested to read that Dr. Norman Vincent Peale some days ago disassociated himself from the National Conference of Citizens for Religious Freedom, a group that charged a Roman Catholic president would be under "extreme pressure from the hierarchy of his church" to align the foreign policy of the U.S. with that of the Vatican.
Religious freedom cannot just be Protestant freedom. It must be freedom for all religions. It is a long time since I sat in my office and read the scurrilous literature that came into the Democratic headquarters in Alfred E. Smith's campaign. Nothing quite so bad is reaching me now. But some of the letters sound hysterical and purely emotional.
The question seems to me fairly simple. The Constitution gives us all religious freedom and we are not be questioned as to our religious beliefs.
Some people maintain that the Catholic church is not above working to get certain public privileges for its private institutions. This can be done, however, only by the passage of certain laws.
To tell a man he cannot run for any office in this country because he belongs to a certain religion or is a member of another race—even though he is required to fulfill all the obligations of citizenship, including fighting and dying for his country—is completely illogical and unconstitutional.
I have fought to prevent the Catholic church from being granted certain school privileges which I think interfere with our accepted beliefs on the separation of church and state, but I will fight equally hard for the right of any American citizen to serve his country in any capacity.