I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President -- should he be Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.
The bold portion up there is the most controversial, I think. How do you reconcile decisions made to lead a fundamentally secular country when you're viewing the situation through the lens of religion? The Catholic church teaches that the Pope is the head of the church (correct me if I'm wrong here. I'm not Catholic, but this is my perception). If you refuse to follow direction by the Pope, you're saying that you don't believe a fundamental rule of the Church. If you don't believe and follow a fundamental rule of the Church, are you still Catholic?
That part of JFK's speech did much to calm voters facing the option of voting for a Catholic president, but unless I'm missing something huge, I don't see how it can be reconciled with Catholicism as a set of beliefs.
Another question this brings up: Protestants often speak in terms of God talking directly to them. For example, "I feel that God has lead me to do this."
Would a Protestant presidential candidate actually say, in a campaign speech, that he believes in an America where a church, church elders (or God) would not tell the President how to act?
ADDED: This is the paragraph right after the one above:
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.