Religion: White House Tapes Reveal Role of Religion during Johnson, Nixon Administrations
Casual observers of politics often point to the early-1980s, with the rising influence of the Moral Majority, as marking a new and unprecedented era in the relationship between religion and politics. But historical evidence suggests that religion has been part of politics and government since before the Founding. Even during the 1960s and 1970s, when it was tacitly assumed by the Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations that religion should not play a direct role in government, its role was manifest in many ways. The Miller Center's Presidential Recordings Project has revealed numerous Oval Office conversations from Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon indicating the continuing impact of religion in government. Two examples are shared below.
In the first, Miller Center scholar Guian McKee examines the debate over the proper role of church-affiliated organizations in implementing the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) of 1964. Historians often ignore the fact that churches and religiously-affiliated groups played a key role in implementing many of the programs created as part of President Johnson's War on Poverty, including Head Start, VISTA, and Community Action. During the debate over the EOA in the spring and summer of 1964, the administration held a series of discussions with members of Congress over the proper role of religious organizations in implementing the Act. The six conversations below focus on the potential problems of giving federal aid to religiously-affiliated schools. [Click here for full audio and transcripts]
The second excerpt is taken from a short telephone conversation between President Nixon and the Rev. Billy Graham. Graham alerts Nixon to an op-ed he has written that will be published in the New York Times where he blames President Kenenedy for the war in Vietnam. The exchange underscores the continuing presence of religious leaders in public life. [Click here for full audio and transcript]