The 4th of July, JFK and Religious Freedom

John Fitzgerald Kennedy Inaugural Address

An article published in 2014 in Time magazine, “The Theology of the Fourth of July” by Ira Stoll, posits that the 4th of July is a religious holiday, and he cites John Fitzgerald Kennedy and the Declaration of Independence as evidence.

Stoll quotes Kennedy’s July 4, 1946, speech at the City of Boston’s Independence Day celebration. Then 29 and the Democratic nominee for a Massachusetts Congressional seat, Kennedy said: “The informing spirit of the American character has always been a deep religious sense. Throughout the years, down to the present, a devotion to fundamental religious principles has characterized American thought and action.”

In that same speech, JFK stated: “Our government was founded on the essential religious idea of integrity of the individual. It was this religious sense which inspired the authors of the Declaration of Independence: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.’”

Stoll points out that Kennedy once again highlighted that concept in a speech at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City during the 1960 presidential campaign, describing the Cold War as “a struggle for supremacy between two conflicting ideologies; freedom under God versus ruthless, Godless tyranny.”

And Stoll points out that in his January 20, 1961, inaugural address, Kennedy professed these same beliefs: “The same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”

Stoll finds four distinct passages in the Declaration of Independence that refer to God: “In addition to the ‘endowed by their Creator’ line mentioned by JFK in his July 4 speech, there is an opening salute to ‘the laws of nature’s God,’ an appeal to “‘the Supreme Judge of the World,’ and a closing expression of ‘firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.’”

Regardless of whether July 4th is or ever was a religious holiday, it is certain that religious freedom is a core belief of the American people—one the nation actively supports at home and abroad.

Religious freedom Religious holiday John F. Kennedy JFK 4th of July Declaration of Independence