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Public Papers - 1990 - January

Remarks at the Annual Convention of the National Religious Broadcasters

1990-01-29

Thank you all very much. Thank you, President Rose. Thank you very much. Thank you for that warm welcome. And President Rose, Director Cook, new Director Gustavson, friend Pat Robertson, Dr. Robertson: my greetings to you all. And I certainly want to salute your leadership, all the leadership of the NRB. And ladies and gentlemen, it's often said of a group or individual that he hasn't got a prayer. Well, I'm pleased to be with an audience about whom that will never be said. [Laughter]

This marks the fourth time that I've had the honor of addressing the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters. And once again, it is a delight to be back, and I know I speak for Barbara in that regard as well. In the spirit of the occasion, I want to make two vows. First, I'll be brief. And I know there's a mention in the Bible about the burning bush. [Laughter] But I also know -- and I say this not with humility but with objectivity -- compared to most around me here, I'm not that hot a speaker. [Laughter] So, I won't burden you. But the second promise is for those of you way off in the back of the room: I'll try to speak up. Pat Robertson warned me that the agnostics in this room are very bad. [Laughter]

Let me begin with some good news for modern man. There is no denying that America is a religious nation. And sure, differences exist over sect and theology. I'm reminded of what that French statesman Talleyrand once said of America: ``I found there a country with 32 religions and only 1 sauce.'' [Laughter] Well, you know these Frenchmen. [Laughter]

And yet you know that what unites us eclipses what divides us. For we believe that political values without moral values, a moral underpinning, cannot sustain a people. And this afternoon I'd like to talk to you about those moral values. I speak of the qualities of tolerance and decency, courage and responsibility, and of course, faith -- values which remind us that while God can live without man, man cannot live without God. And today, amid political and economic upheaval, these values have not changed, nor will they be more crucial than in the 1990's.

I hope you know by now -- you know me -- I am an optimist; and after all, last year I had the experience that renewed my faith. I was running out of prayers. I had almost given up. Then a miracle occurred: I caught a fish! [Laughter] So, it won't surprise you that I'm convinced we can and will uphold the values that I'm referring to. For as Americans we always have. Consider that for more than two centuries America has endorsed, properly so, the separation of church and state, but it has also shown how religion and government can coexist; and that, to paraphrase our founding document, ``All men are endowed not by government but by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.'' And these rights include the freedom of expression and to think, dream, and worship as we please; equal protection under the law and the right to choose our leaders and our destinies; the inherent dignity of the individual. And we must manifest that dignity by the policies that we pursue.

For example, I believe that we should help parents obtain the best child care for their kids, and so we have sent legislation to Congress to make good that goal. But I want to ensure that parents, not bureaucrats, are the ones who decide how to care for these children. I will not see the option of religious-based child care restricted or eliminated. I will fight that every inch of the way.

And next there is the concern of every child, the quality and the diversity of America's schools. Our pioneering legislation, the Education Excellence Act of 1989, will spur excellence and demand accountability. For our kids' sake, let's help American education make the grade.

We come next to an issue on which many Americans disagree, but for my part let me be very clear: I support the sanctity of life. We need policies that encourage adoption, not abortion. And that comes right from the heart.

Finally, I continue to support a belief held by the overwhelming majority of Americans: the right to voluntary school prayer. And so, I continue to support a constitutional amendment restoring voluntary prayer. You see we need the faith of our fathers back in our schools.

So, as we struggle to find answers to our pressing social problems, I will endorse policies that reflect the rights of the individual, a concept as old as the scriptures. Rights which form the essence of America and that to other nations have become the message of America, for our freedoms have been carried to every corner of the Earth. One year ago in my Inaugural Address I said, ``The day of the dictator is over.'' And indeed, the last year has been a victory for the freedoms with which God has blessed the United States of America. We've seen the rights of men move mountains or, as in East Berlin, even move a wall. And think of Central America, where men and women facing great personal risk work for human rights and against tyranny of any ideology. And let me add, I am especially proud of our troops in Panama. Americans supported Operation Just Cause for a lot of reasons, but because democracy is a noble cause. And to the young soldiers who serve this country, every American thanks you.

Think next of South Africa and the Philippines where the values of church leaders have been a force for democratic change. And, yes, in Eastern Europe too, where for centuries, faith has sustained those striving for freedom amid adversity. You know, 8 years ago, one of the Lord's great ambassadors, the Reverend Billy Graham, went to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and upon returning, spoke of a movement there toward more religious freedom. And perhaps he saw it before many of us, because it takes a man of God to sense the early movement of the hand of God. And yet, who could predict that in 1989 freedom's tide would also be economic, political, and intellectual? Or that the walls of bayonets and barbed wire, the walls of tyranny, would come tumbling down?

Look, first, at East Germany, where in 1982, long before last November's mass demonstration, members of Leipzig St. Nicholas Church -- 1982 -- members of that church began a weekly prayer for peace. In the services, students were taught nonviolence, and started the candlelight vigils that one day would rouse a continent. And the police came and threatened them. But the students vowed to stay, and did, becoming a light unto the world. And ultimately, that light spread to Dresden and East Berlin. And as it shone, a Wittenberg pastor said: ``I would rather see a thousand drops of candle wax on the marketplace than one drop of blood.'' And there was no blood -- only the stirring sight last October of 70,000 workers in the streets and squares of Leipzig. And weapons? They carried candles. And their light was likened to a blizzard of fireflies in the night. Ask anyone that evening. They sought what we Americans enjoy: free markets, free elections, and the exercise of free will unhampered by the state. And they were propelled by many things, faith not the least of them. And as they and others marched across Eastern Europe, the day of the dictator did end, and the day of democracy began.

Look at Bulgaria, where last month the state press agency conceded. People were wishing Merry Christmas to each other maybe for the first time without fear they would be accused of being religious. And Czechoslovakia -- there too, a victory for the rights of man. For years police chased carolers from Prague's Kings Road. And this Christmas, carols warmed the heart of the city, and there was wonder in the air. In the Soviet Union last year, Moscow hosted the first nationwide gatherings of Jews since the fall of the czar. And in Romania, still further victories -- Christmas songs on the radio for the first time since 1946. And heroes who showed that you can't lock people behind walls forever when moral conviction uplifts their hearts.

And let me close, then, with a story of two such heroes, both Romanian, and how their example illumined decency, courage, and love. The first was a Lutheran minister, Laszlo Tokes, who dared to speak of freedom. So last November in Timisoara, masked thugs broke into the small apartment of Tokes and his pregnant wife. And they beat him. And they stabbed him. And the Government allowed them no food, and even parishioners were not permitted to bring bread. And finally, the police arrived to deport the pastor, but the flock protected him, forming a human chain around his apartment. And in time, the chain grew across the land until, as we celebrated Christmas, Romania's quest for freedom summoned lightness against the dark. Today, Laszlo Tokes ministers to ever larger numbers preaching his faith, but now preaching it without any fear at all.

As does another, Gheorghe Calciu, a Romanian Orthodox minister. His story proves you can't kill an idea, or you can't destroy the human will. Father Calciu has spent 21 of his 64 years in jail -- 21 of his 64 years, a third of his entire life, in prison. And in fact, he found God there while in prison for opposing the Government. Released, he risked his freedom by preaching a series of Lenten sermons. And for that he was imprisoned again, tortured beyond belief. Yet Father Calciu had faith. He refused to break and was sentenced to death. And as he stood in the corner of the prison yard praying for his wife and son, awaiting death, it was then something remarkable occurred. His two executioners called to him, and surely he thought, this was the end. But instead they said, ``Father,'' -- that was the first time they had called him that -- ``we have decided not to kill you.'' And 3 weeks later he asked permission to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, and while making preparations heard these same two men approach. And he turned around and was astonished -- his would-be executioners were on their knees on the cold concrete of the cell.

Father Calciu is with us today. Father, it is an honor to salute you, and I'm sure you're glad to be here, but I know, too, you hope to return to your native land. And in the season of miracles, who can doubt you will? For today, the times are on the side of peace because the world increasingly is on the side of God.

For my own part, I know this is true. For although I've been President for barely a year, I believe with all my heart that one cannot be America's President without a belief in God, without the strength that your faith gives to you. Another President, Dwight Eisenhower -- beloved Ike -- once said: ``Free government is the political expression of a deeply felt religious faith.'' Let each of us use his faith to express the noblest values of America so that together we can then serve the inalienable rights of man.

Thank you for your work, for your kindness to Barbara and me, and God bless you. And God bless our beloved land, the United States of America. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:13 p.m. in the Sheraton Washington Ballroom at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to the following officials of the National Religious Broadcasters: Robert Cook, interim executive director; Brandt Gustavson, newly appointed director; and Pat Robertson, member of the board of directors.

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