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Senator Edward Kennedy: A Man of Faith and Friend of Religious Freedom

The Reverend Chloe Breyer is the Director of the Interfaith Center in New York City.

Whether advocating for the Americans with Disabilities Act, The Family and Medical Leave Act, the Head Start Expansion Act, or the Fair Housing Amendment, Senator Kennedy worked to make sure no American was left behind.

Some of the legislation he championed, however, has had special significance for people of faith.

Consider the bill enabling religious leaders in New York City to provide spiritual care to family members and clean-up workers at Ground Zero in the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11th 2009. Local Episcopalian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish chaplains received training from The Red Cross’ National Spiritual Care Aviation Incident Response Team in the days that followed 9/11. They took shifts at the World Trade Center Site, the Family Assistance Center, and the make-shift morgue across town to provide spiritual care to bereaved family members or bless body parts pulled from the rubble by clean-up workers, fire-fighters, and police in the months following 9/11.


This work would not have been possible without Senator Kennedy’s imaginative response to the complaints of victims’ family members in the ValuJet 592 crash in the Everglades in 1996. Kennedy worked with other members of the Senate to pass the Aviation Disaster Family Act of 1996–a bill that made the National Transportation Safety Board accountable–through contracting with the Red Cross–for providing emotional care for victims’ families in the aftermath of a plane crash. In the months following 9/11 and the build-up to war in Iraq, many conservative church-goers critical of Kennedy’s anti-war stand, overlooked the fact that he had, in this obscure piece of legislation, helped Americans most directly impacted by the attacks make spiritual sense of their tragic loss.


Likewise, The Civil Rights Act for Institutionalized Persons ensured the constitutional rights of people in government institutions–the elderly, the disabled, the mentally ill, the incarcerated. Not only did the law enable the US Department of Justice to investigate institutions to ensure humane living conditions, but the law also detailed the protection of diverse religious practices for the institutionalized by providing access to religious leaders of different faith traditions.

Religious freedom and access to emergency pastoral care are hardly examples of the “liberal” causes Senator Kennedy was so often described by his foes as crusading for exclusively. Encouraging local religious leaders to offer their support in a time of crisis, however, should garner Kennedy praise from both sides of the aisle–Americans of faith and non-believers alike.

Comments read comments(5)
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Da Chen

posted August 27, 2009 at 5:53 pm

All the more reason to miss the great man. I am saddend by his passing. Now even more so after reading Chloe’s insightful and heartfelt piece.
Da Chen, author

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posted August 28, 2009 at 4:59 am

You have to be kidding!!! Kennedy didn’t even know that the constitution doesn’t mention ‘separation of church and state’ and that its in the SOVIETS constitution!! Kennedy forced legislation restricting Christians and religion organizations and did his best to exclude them from Government involvement.
His oratory delivered at Liberty University (Jerry Farwells Churuch) says it all, he was socialistic in his views and completely ignored the foundations set by the founding fathers.
I can’t believe this forum, a bunch of secular humanists pretending the know God and denying everything in the Bible and refusing to study historical documents that framed the Constitution.
Kennedy was a scum bag, an adulterer, fornicator and I and most believe a murderer. He certainly had his part of mass murder with his views and support of legislation for abortion. I can see him now, standing in front of all those babies who were cut to pieces and burned by saline solution, and Mary Jo, I bet he isn’t trying to be the big shot at the party now! God is just and God said “NO MURDERER shall enter into the kingdom of God” Proverbs states that anyone who partakes in the shedding of innocents blood is condemned. Continue to be brainwashed into the land of ignorance and stupidity; refusal to study and learn the truth will end in your distruction as well.

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posted August 28, 2009 at 9:36 am

You really are a wonderful example of Christian charity.
Of all the wonderful things the Kennedy family has done to promote human rights and preserve this wonderful Union, I think Senator Kennedy’s willingness to stand up for what is right instead of what is easy and popular is probably the most important contribution of all.
How sad that the conservative Christians demand the rest of us bend our necks to their will. That’s idolatry.

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posted August 28, 2009 at 9:54 am

Kennedy stood up for all Americans and not just those who believed the “right” way.
As for “NO MURDERER shall enter into the kingdom of God” Proverbs states that anyone who partakes in the shedding of innocents blood is condemned.” The last President Georgew W Bush is in a heap of trouble.
And with regards to scum bags, an adulterers, fornicators, they are predominate in politics and as of late especially with the most “Christian” politicians in the GOP

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