Document 6: President Ronald Reagan Defends American Morality (1983) Known as “The Great Communicator,” Ronald Reagan addressed a meeting of the National Association of American Evangelicals in 1983 to articulate his belief in America’s moral righteousness, particularly in relation to the Cold War.
Remarks at the Annual Convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida (March 8, 1983)
Reverend clergy all, Senator Hawkins, distinguished members of the Florida congressional delegation, and all of you:
I can’t tell you how you have warmed my heart with your welcome. I’m delighted to be here today.
Those of you in the National Association of Evangelicals are known for your spiritual and humanitarian work. And I would be especially remiss if I didn’t discharge right now one personal debt of gratitude. Thank you for your prayers. Nancy and I have felt their presence many times in many ways. And believe me, for us they’ve made all the difference. . . .
So, I tell you there are a great many God-fearing, dedicated, noble men and women in public life, present company included. And, yes, we need your help to keep us ever mindful of the ideas and the principles that brought us into the public arena in the first place. The basis of those ideals and principles is a commitment to freedom and personal liberty that, itself, is grounded in the much deeper realization that freedom prospers only where the blessings of God are avidly sought and humbly accepted.
The American experiment in democracy rests on this insight. Its discovery was the great triumph of our Founding Fathers, voiced by William Penn when he said: “If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.” Explaining the inalienable rights of men, Jefferson said, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.” And it was George Washington who said that “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
And finally, that shrewdest of all observers of American democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, put it eloquently after he had gone on a search for the secret of America’s greatness and genius — and he said: “Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the greatness and the genius of America. . . . America is good. And if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
Well, I’m pleased to be here today with you who are keeping America great by keeping her good. Only through your work and prayers and those of millions of others can we hope to survive this perilous century and keep alive this experiment in liberty, this last, best hope of man.
I want you to know that this administration is motivated by a political philosophy that sees the greatness of America in you, her people, and in your families, churches, neighborhoods, communities — the institutions that foster and nourish values like concern for others and respect for the rule of law under God.
Now, I don’t have to tell you that this puts us in opposition to, or at least out of step with, a prevailing attitude of many who have turned to a modern-day secularism, discarding the tried and time-tested values upon which our very civilization is based. No matter how well intentioned, their value system is radically different from that of most Americans. And while they proclaim that they’re freeing us from superstitions of the past, they’ve taken upon themselves the job of superintending us by government rule and regulation. Sometimes their voices are louder than ours, but they are not yet a majority.
An example of that vocal superiority is evident in a controversy now going on in Washington. And since I’m involved, I’ve been waiting to hear from the parents of young America. How far are they willing to go in giving to government their prerogatives as parents?
Let me state the case as briefly and simply as I can. An organization of citizens, sincerely motivated and deeply concerned about the increase in illegitimate births and abortions involving girls well below the age of consent, sometime ago established a nationwide network of clinics to offer help to these girls and, hopefully, alleviate this situation. Now, again, let me say, I do not fault their intent. However, in their well-intentioned effort, these clinics have decided to provide advice and birth control drugs and devices to underage girls without the knowledge of their parents.
For some years now, the Federal Government has helped with funds to subsidize these clinics. In providing for this, the Congress decreed that every effort would be made to maximize parental participation. Nevertheless, the drugs and devices are prescribed without getting parental consent or giving notification after they’ve done so. Girls termed “sexually active” — and that has replaced the word “promiscuous” — are given this help in order to prevent illegitimate birth or abortion.
Well, we have ordered clinics receiving Federal funds to notify the parents such help has been given. One of the Nation’s leading newspapers has created the term “squeal rule” in editorializing against us for doing this, and we’re being criticized for violating the privacy of young people. A judge has recently granted an injunction against an enforcement of our rule. I’ve watched TV panel shows discuss this issue, seen columnists pontificating on our error, but no one seems to mention morality as playing a part in the subject of sex.
Is all of Judeo-Christian tradition wrong? Are we to believe that something so sacred can be looked upon as a purely physical thing with no potential for emotional and psychological harm? And isn’t it the parents’ right to give counsel and advice to keep their children from making mistakes that may affect their entire lives?
Many of us in government would like to know what parents think about this intrusion in their family by government. We’re going to fight in the courts. The right of parents and the rights of family take precedence over those of Washington-based bureaucrats and social engineers.
But the fight against parental notification is really only one example of many attempts to water down traditional values and even abrogate the original terms of American democracy. Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged. When our Founding Fathers passed the first amendment, they sought to protect churches from government interference. They never intended to construct a wall of hostility between government and the concept of religious belief itself.
The evidence of this permeates our history and our government. The Declaration of Independence mentions the Supreme Being no less than four times. ̀ `In God We Trust” is engraved on our coinage. The Supreme Court opens its proceedings with a religious invocation. And the Members of Congress open their sessions with a prayer. I just happen to believe the schoolchildren of the United States are entitled to the same privileges as Supreme Court Justices and Congressmen.
Last year, I sent the Congress a constitutional amendment to restore prayer to public schools. Already this session, there’s growing bipartisan support for the amendment, and I am calling on the Congress to act speedily to pass it and to let our children pray. . . .
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