"The failure of Prohibition proves the futility of such an attempt when a majority or even a substantial minority happens to disagree. Some questions may be inherently individual ones, or people may be sharply divided about whether they are. In such cases, like Prohibition and abortion, the proper role of religion is to appeal to the conscience of the individual, not the coercive power of the state. But there are other questions which are inherently public in nature, which we must decide together as a nation, and where religion and religious values can and should speak to our common conscience. The issue of nuclear war is a compelling example. It is a moral issue; it will be decided by government, not by each individual; and to give any effect to the moral values of their creed, people of faith must speak directly about public policy. The Catholic bishops and the Reverend Billy Graham have every right to stand for the nuclear freeze, and Dr. Falwell has every right to stand against it. There must be standards for the exercise of such leadership, so that the obligations of belief will not be debased into an opportunity for mere political advantage. But to take a stand at all when a question is both properly public and truly moral is to stand in a long and honored tradition. Many of the great evangelists of the 1800s were in the forefront of the abolitionist movement. In our own time, the Reverend William Sloane Coffin challenged the morality of the war in Vietnam. Pope John XXIII renewed the Gospel's call to social justice. And Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was the greatest prophet of this century, awakened our nation and its conscience to the evil of racial segregation. Their words have blessed our world. And who now wishes they had been silent? Who would bid Pope John Paul [II] to quiet his voice against the oppression in Eastern Europe, the violence in Central America, or the crying needs of the landless, the hungry, and those who are tortured in so many of the dark political prisons of our time? President Kennedy, who said that 'no religious body should seek to impose its will,' also urged religious leaders to state their views and give their commitment when the public debate involved ethical issues. In drawing the line between imposed will and essential witness, we keep church and state separate, and at the same time we recognize that the City of God should speak to the civic duties of men and women. There are four tests which draw that line and define the difference. First, we must respect the integrity of religion itself. People of conscience should be careful how they deal in the word of their Lord. In our own history, religion has been falsely invoked to sanction prejudice -- even slavery -- to condemn labor unions and public spending for the poor. I believe that the prophecy, 'The poor you have always with you' is an indictment, not a commandment. And I respectfully suggest that God has taken no position on the Department of Education -- and that a balanced budget constitutional amendment is a matter of economic analysis, and not heavenly appeals. Religious values cannot be excluded from every public issue; but not every public issue involves religious values. And how ironic it is when those very values are denied in the name of religion. For example, we are sometimes told that it is wrong to feed the hungry, but that mission is an explicit mandate given to us in the 25th chapter of Matthew. Second, we must respect the independent judgments of conscience. Those who proclaim moral and religious values can offer counsel, but they should not casually treat a position on a public issue as a test of fealty to faith. Just as I disagree with the Catholic bishops on tuition tax credits -- which I oppose -- so other Catholics can and do disagree with the hierarchy, on the basis of honest conviction, on the question of the nuclear freeze."
Edward M. Kennedy gives a speech on faith, truth and tolerance in America.