National television networks refuse to air First-Amendment commercial featuring JFK

September 11, 2019 • 10:00 am

A news release from the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) tells us that while this FFRF commercial featuring John F. Kennedy was played three years ago on the ABC television network, it was rejected by ABC for airing during the Democratic debates in Houston tomorrow.  This was after ABC refused a much more provocative ad, one featuring Ron Reagan, the former President’s son (see it here).

From the FFRF:

“Every year we ask the major networks to reconsider and run our commercial,” explains FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “We were disappointed, but not surprised, when ABC once again refused to run the Reagan endorsement spot.”

But, Gaylor says, she was shocked that ABC next rejected a commercial largely featuring a video excerpt of a famous speech by John F. Kennedy. As a presidential candidate, JFK gave a talk to a gathering of Protestant ministers in Houston in 1960, intending to allay their fears that as a Catholic he would be beholden to the Vatican rather than to the Constitution.

In his strong remarks in favor of secular government, JFK said: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” FFRF’s commercial leads with footage from his speech, then states: “Let’s restore respect for America’s secular roots. Help the Freedom From Religion Foundation defend the wall of separation between state and church. Join us at FFRF.ORG. Freedom depends on freethinkers.”

The ad concludes with the strains of “Let freedom ring,” as FFRF’s emblematic image appears of a Lincoln penny with the words “In Reason We Trust” instead of “In God We Trust.”

FFRF produced this commercial, which first aired on “CBS This Morning” and the “Monday CBS Evening News” in 2012, in response to a remark by then-presidential candidate Rick Santorum, after he said JFK’s remark “makes me want to throw up.”

Ironically, FFRF had no trouble placing the JFK spot nationally on “ABC World News Tonight” on Sept. 24, 2016, to protest Pope Francis’ joint address to Congress.

Note that this ad is quite unprovocative. All it does is show a former President affirming the church/state separation principle of the First Amendment. Apparently the networks are so sensitive about Militant Atheism that they won’t even air an innocuous ad like this:


65 thoughts on “National television networks refuse to air First-Amendment commercial featuring JFK

  1. JFK’s (and Reagan the Younger’s) vocal intonations add quality to the texts of their messages. They both add meaning to the concepts –even without the benefit of a large helicopter whirring in the background.

    1. … without the benefit of a large helicopter whirring in the background.

      It’s now been a record 184 days since the Trump administration held a “daily” press briefing in the White House press room. Some Trump spoxes, pointing to the screamfests he holds with the press scrum on the South Lawn over the whine of Marine One, nevertheless claim that he is the “most accessible” president ever — which is like a deadbeat dad who rolls up in his ex-wife’s driveway on his Harley to scream at his kids through the screen door claiming that he spends “quality time” with his children.

      1. These things don’t last forever. In brighter news, Robert Mugabe just died. I couldn’t do better than quote from Kevin Underhill’s Lowering the Bar site:

        “With any luck, things will now improve for the people of Zimbabwe, who have been through a lot and deserve better. But then, he was their fault to begin with, I suppose. I mean, what kind of country allows a complete and utter buffoon to stay in power despite ever-mounting evidence of fraud, corruption, and incompetence? Ha! Nice one, Zimbabwe.”


  2. This … … this non – airing of such
    … … by any network is disturbing.
    And, for entities of journalism,
    … … almost beyond belief. It is y2019 !

    Surely upon this specific Day of Remembrance,
    can we seemingly .not. try to help … …


  3. I think they are afraid of upsetting their Christian viewers as well. They run the Reagan commercial on MSNBC all the time. I guess they are not afraid of burning in hell.

  4. ABC has gotten cold feet since 2016. I think this may be not because of the content of the video, but rather that it is sponsored by the Freedom From Religion Foundation at a major political event. ABC is scared that airing this commercial would ignite religious folk and right wing media into a frenzy because they would associate freedom from religion with the network, something that could result in a reduction in viewership for all ABC programs and must be avoided at all costs.

  5. JFK’s speech was an attempt to assure voters that his Catholic religion wouldn’t stop him from being a good president. I can’t see any president or presidential candidate saying anything like this now.

  6. In 1974, Lorenzo Milam and Jeremy Lansman sent a petition to the FCC to freeze the licensing of religious radio stations (of which, remember, there were already a huge number). In response, the infuriated operators and partisans of these cash registers attached to broadcasting towers generated a flood of 4 million letters to the FCC denouncing this “petition against God”. The story is summarized at: . Lorenzo recounted it in humorous detail in his book “The Petition Against God”, which can be found through Abe Books.

  7. Atheist here… Yes, I agree with your conclusions, but the basis of our US belief in individual freedom relies on the concept of natural rights, which does draw from the concept of a creator. Unfortunate, that, but true nonetheless.

    1. There is no reason to accept a sectarian narrative and natural rights theory. Nearly all the founders, and all the most prominent ones who shaped the Declaration and Constitution were Deists. Those Deists agreed their “creator” did not care about the doings of mankind and took no part in the proceedings of the world. Lacking the science we now have, the Deist creator was much like the big bang is to us, and does not figure in the founders’ natural rights theory. They recognized natural right through reason.

    2. Odd how Christians missed this essential “individual freedom” and “natural rights” stuff for the better art of two millennia.

    3. “our US belief in individual freedom relies on the concept of natural rights, which does draw from the concept of a creator.”

      IMO, you’ll need to do a bit more than just claim that by fiat.

      Are you talking historically? Then you’d have to prove not just that the founding fathers were theists/deists(which they admittedly were…or at least they tended to say they were), but that their theism/deism inspired their belief in the concept of natural rights. And you’ll have a hard time doing that because to do so you’ll have to
      a. travel back in time, and
      b. read the founding fathers’ minds.

      Alternatively, are you talking from a philosophical, intellectual standpoint? Are you saying that the idea of a god is required to justify the idea of natural rights?
      Then you’ll have to explain why that is so. And I’ll save you time: you can’t. No-one can. Euthypryo stands guard every time anyone tries to use god to justify a claim about values, and the concept of natural rights is a claim about values. It’s a no-go zone.

      1. We don’t need to travel back in time or read minds, we only have to read what the founders wrote – which was plentiful – or see what they actually created, the first government on earth to wall out religion.

        Theism and Deism need to be distinguished. The Deism of the founders was not a religion but a philosophy which included a theory of natural rights. At the time Deism and Atheism were often used interchangeably.

        1. Yes, deism is a kind of philosophy(an incredibly bad one imo, but still), whereas theism relates to religion(although if we’re being precise, religions are a kind of philosophy too; they’re just so shambolic and disordered and quotidian that we don’t tend to think of them in that way).

          But if the OP is going to claim that the theory of natural rights relies on the concept of a creator then that needs demonstrating. The simple fact that the founding fathers were deists does not do the job.

          1. We must have a different idea of the founders’ Deism. Which specific features in the philosophy of Jefferson, Madison, or Locke are “incredibly bad?” I fear your view of Deism is poisoned by Christian apologist fables attempting to frame the founders as somehow avatars of Christianity (or more inanely Judeo-Christianity).

            The argument: the founders were Deists therefore this is a Christian nations is wrong, not in the premise, but the conclusion.

            1. I’m not saying they were ethically bad. they were extraordinary men who I respect greatly.

              But deism doesn’t make sense. I’m an atheist so naturally I think a ‘creator’ is a pointless philosophical supposition that explains nothing.

              1. It’s still seems like the Christian disinformation campaign is coloring your views of Deism. The “creator” in Deism has no will, no desire, no plan, no human qualities. It doesn’t care about human beings or command rules for their conduct. It doesn’t reward and punish. It doesn’t answer prayers. There are no miracles, the world is completely natural. Reason is the most important tool for understanding the world, scripture is man made and only as good as the particular human thought that created it. This creator, “Nature’s God” is the same thing as “Nature.” That Nature created the universe is not a bad approximation of the big bang given the general state of knowledge then. This philosophy very much makes sense to me.

              2. I’m aware of all that, I promise. There’s no Christian disinformation campaign that’s colouring my views. I just think the supposition of a creator is entirely unnecessary.

                We have a universe(or multiverse if you like). And if you want a finite explanation for it then you can either say it’s uncaused, or you can pointlessly postulate a god who created it, and who now also requires explanation. And then you’ll have to say god is also uncaused. So why bother adding the creator god part in at all?
                The first choice, ie. that the universe is uncaused, is simpler and doesn’t postulate an supernatural entity that defies any kind of normal explanation.

                “This creator, “Nature’s God” is the same thing as “Nature.” That Nature created the universe is not a bad approximation of the big bang given the general state of knowledge then. This philosophy very much makes sense to me.”

                That sounds like pantheism, not deism.

  8. Gutless. They’re scared shitless of the bellyaching they’ll get from Xtians who scream “persecution!” every time they’re exposed to anything that contradicts their own religious beliefs or are made to remove their granite Decalogues from public property.

  9. What a completely absurd state of affairs. The universally adored president JFK, talking in extremely mild and diplomatic terms about the _actual secular laws of the country_…is considered too much for delicate religious TV viewers.

    And these are the kind of people who call everyone else ‘snowflakes’.

    1. The “universally adored” part doesn’t apply to when JFK actually was president. There were, after all, “Wanted for Treason” posters circulating in Dallas on that fateful day of November 22, 1963. And in some circles, owing to their support for civil rights, Jack and his attorney-general brother Bobby were known simply as “those n*gger-loving Kennedy boys.”

      1. Yes, I was talking about the advert as it would be received by an audience today. My impression, from far away in the land of bad teeth and red buses and incestuous royal families, is that he is regarded fondly by most modern Americans. A bit like Lady Di, in that he’s frozen in a particular time and was killed by evil, shadowy forces. I thought he’d become a kind of slightly sickly icon that even plenty of conservatives liked.

        1. I think your impression is correct. While I am sure some conservatives dislike JFK, they realize that they can’t say anything about it without everyone thinking badly of them. In short, JFK’s image is pretty much bulletproof. One exception: by virtue of being a Kennedy, he’s a classic example of someone born into rich white male privilege. Still, with all the premature death in his family, they even get a pass on that most of the time.

          1. “In short, JFK’s image is pretty much bulletproof.”

            Not sure “bulletproof” is le mot juste for a discussion of JFK, Paul.

            Juste sayin’. 🙂

          2. “One exception: by virtue of being a Kennedy, he’s a classic example of someone born into rich white male privilege.”

            FWIW, he donated his POTUS salary to charity. I’ll put on my long “To Do” list researching whether other presidents did so.

    2. The universally adored president

      “universally”, in the sense of “amongst people who adore JFK”? He may have been one of the least-worst American presidents – and he’d get a long fight against Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama for that title – but that is a long way from “universally adored”. Is Carter universally adored? Is Obama universally adored?
      Of course, he does have the benefit of being dead and unable to make more mistakes.

  10. I am going to suggest here that the main cause for the cold feet with this commercial is the “In Reason We Trust” ending. You see, promoting ones agenda (freedom from religion) is one thing. But adding a swipe at religion (changing ‘God’ to ‘Reason’) is perceivably quite another.
    At least that is what the network executives could be thinking. They fear the not-so-subtle attack on religion.

    1. Yes, I agree. Anything but a general forelock-tugging, please-sir-can-I-be-your-human-footstool attitude sets these people off.
      The ending is not sufficiently respectful of American Christians, and since they are the most persecuted members of society it’s only fair that TV networks junk the entire advert – y’ know, just in case little Billy, innocent little Billy home from Sunday school, gets the wrong impression about the American constitution and ends up thinking it’s yuck secular or something.

      1. If this is on the right track, a worry from television executives is that it would raise the ire of religious special interests who regularly feel more persecuted than they actually are. Then, unwanted bad publicity ramps up on Twitter & BookFace. Sponsors start to get unhappy with this negative association. It is not about doing whats right and wrong and the constitution. It becomes a matter of business, which is even more important.

        1. I will be listening closely for any future bloviation from ABC about “freedom of the press” and “freedom of speech.”

    2. But adding a swipe at religion (changing ‘God’ to ‘Reason’) is perceivably quite another.

      When did that “in god we trust” get put onto the national prayer, oath of alleigence, dollar bill, or whatever the brainwashing is called? Just fading from one to the other should … actually, showing that it is a recent addition is probably going to be even more offensive. Having dirty secrets in the distant past is not as bad as having dirty secrets in the recent past.

      1. That stuff all happened as a product of the Cold War. Ya gotta distinguish yourself from those godless commies, you know.

  11. This sounds right to me. Would the major broadcasters run the spot with the “in reason we trust” part removed? I think they might. FFRF could find out.

  12. I don’t hear anything wrong with this speech. It’s better than the extreme far Right that I hear on Fox news. But then I prefer the politics of the 1960’s to the rubbish I hear from this current President. He encourages hate and violence with his racism and lies.

  13. I can see a day in the future where the whole idea of this conflict will seem absurd, as I suspect it would in Sweden or Denmark today.

  14. Here’s an interesting cast of characters who shared Kennedy’s view (sorry for the length of the post). The last two may be the most surprising.

    • “I could not do otherwise without transcending the limits prescribed by the Constitution for the President and without feeling that I might in some degree disturb the security which religion nowadays enjoys in this country in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government.”
    -Andrew Jackson, 7th U.S. President, in a letter to the Synod of the Reformed Church of North America, June 12, 1832, explaining his refusal to proclaim a “day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer.”

    • “[T]hank God, under our constitution there was no connection between Church and State.”
    -James K. Polk, 11th U.S. President

    • “I am tolerant of all creeds. Yet if any sect suffered itself to be used for political objects I would meet it by political opposition. In my view church and state should be separate, not only in form, but fact. Religion and politics should not be mingled.”
    -Millard Fillmore, 13th U.S. President, address during the 1856 presidential election

    • “We all agree that neither the Government nor political parties ought to interfere with religious sects. It is equally true that religious sects ought not to interfere with the Government or with political parties. We believe that the cause of good government and the cause of religion suffer by all such interference.”
    -Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th U.S. President, speech in Marion, Ohio, July 31, 1875

    • “The divorce between Church and State ought to be absolute. It ought to be so absolute that no Church property anywhere, in any state or in the nation, should be exempt from equal taxation; for if you exempt the property of any church organization, to that extent you impose a tax upon the whole community.”
    -James A. Garfield, 20th U.S. President, 1874 Congressional Record, 2(6):5384

    • “Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private schools, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the Church and the State forever Separate.”
    -Ulysses S. Grant, 18th U.S. President, address to the Army of the Tennessee, Des Moines, Iowa, September 25, 1875. )

    • “I hold that in this country there must be complete severance of Church and State; that public moneys shall not be used for the purpose of advancing any particular creed; and therefore that the public schools shall be non-sectarian and no public moneys appropriated for sectarian schools.”
    -Theodore Roosevelt, 26th U.S. President, New York public address, October 12, 1915. )

    • “It’s contrary to my beliefs to try to exalt Christianity as having some sort of preferential status in the United States. That violates the Constitution. I’m not in favor of mandatory prayer in school or of using public funds to finance religious education.”
    -Jimmy Carter, 39th U.S. President, Christianity Today, March 2, 1998

    • “We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate.”
    -Ronald Reagan, 40th U.S. President, in a speech to Temple Hillel and Community Leaders in Valley Stream, New York, October 26, 1984

    • “We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion.”
    -Mitt Romney, from “Faith in America Address,” December 6, 2007

    1. I’m not so surprised by the Romney quote; when religion has mixed with government on the federal level, the Mormons tended to suffer.

      The Reagan quote has the ring of something Peggy Noonan wrote for him on one of her more clear-eyed days.

      I am surprised by the Millard Fillmore quote, in that Millard Fillmore is so rarely quoted for any purpose. 🙂

    2. Whoa, Mr JohnE. I appreciate this effort
      of yours. Quite an accounting, shall I say
      and fortunate for Us Americans, of realists !

      Of the past. At least.


    3. Thanks, all.

      Of course, there is an exhaustive list of similar references to the need for separation of church and state by Jefferson and Madison that I didn’t include. I compiled this list of prominent supporters of the idea of separation in response to the criticism I’ve too often heard that no one but Jefferson ever believed that the Constitution required separation of church and state. To the contrary, until the disinformation campaign by the Talibangelicals in recent decades, pretty much everyone took it for granted.

  15. So am I going to get savaged for my take that the ad featuring an ideologically-motivated *defacement of currency* is actually quite provocative?

    1. That’s interesting. Hadn’t thought about the “defacement of currency” angle. Best way to test that out is to see what ads they have run that have included defacement images, such as burning of dollar bills, etc.

    2. So as between God and Mammon, it’s the affront to the sanctity of latter that’s provocative?

      You may have captured the real right-wing zeitgeist.

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