Public Papers - 1992
Remarks to the National Association of Evangelicals in Chicago, Illinois
Thank you for that welcome. And to Dr. Johnson, Dr. Billy Melvin, Don Argue, Dave Rambo, Bob Dugan, my sincere thanks, not just to you all, to everyone up here, but to all of you for that very warm welcome.
And I'd like to open, if I may, on a personal note, to thank you for the help that you've given me over the years. And I'm not really referring to the fine work that your team in Washington has been doing, although they've been of great help to our administration, advancing the values we share. Nor am I thinking only of the wonderful work you do in world relief and in helping people around this world, which is superb work. But my thanks are really more personal than that, and Barbara and I particularly want to thank you for your prayers.
As I said many times before, prayer always has been important in our lives. And without it, I really am convinced, more and more convinced, that no man or no woman who has the privilege of serving in the Presidency could carry out their duties without prayer. I think of Lincoln's famous remark, ``I've been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.'' The intercessionary prayers that so many Americans make on behalf of the President of the United States, in this instance on behalf of me and also of my family, they inspire us, and they give us strength. And I just wanted you to know that, and Barbara and I are very, very grateful to you.
I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to this most prestigious meeting, to speak with you today on the occasion of your 50th anniversary. Your theme: Forward in faith. And that says as much about your movement, much about what evangelicals have brought to America over its lifetime. Evangelicals point our country toward the future, and with the diligence and hard work and confidence that only a firm faith can provide. In so many crucial ways, your concerns are the concerns of your countrymen.
We agree on the big issues that shape the world and on the values, on the values so close to home. I'm talking about jobs, obviously; about family; about world peace, for ourselves and, I guess even more important, for our kids, for the generations coming along.
And we agree that we must speak out against racial bigotry and against anti-Semitism. And as I stressed in my State of the Union Address, it's especially critical in these days of economic difficulty to point out that racial bigotry and anti-Semitism simply have no place in America.
You want, as all Americans do, safe streets for your children. You want schools where your children can receive the finest possible education to prepare them for a life of industry and good citizenship and faith in God. And I believe that means that you are entitled to choose your children's schools.
You want a Government that understands the limited role that it must play in a Nation of free men and women; a Government that promotes economic growth and opportunity; a Government that spends your tax money for the common good, and for the common good alone.
And you want for yourselves and your country that most precious of gifts, peace on Earth. You understand that peace comes not from vacillation and weakness but from clarity of purpose and from strength. The last time a President came before you, I note that it is almost 8 years to the day, our country was nearing the climax of a titanic struggle, the cold war. President Reagan spoke to you then of what America must do to win this hard and bitter peace.
Like you, President Reagan and I understood that the cold war wasn't simply some mundane competition between rival world powers. It was a struggle for the mind of man. On one side was a system dedicated to denying the life of the spirit and celebrating the omnipotence of the state. On the other was a system founded on a profound truth, that our Creator has endowed his children with inalienable rights that no government can deny.
And now, 8 years later, we can say confidently, Americans won the cold war. We won it by standing for what's right. Tonight our children and grandchildren -- and I take great joy in this -- tonight our children and our grandchildren will go to their beds untroubled by the fears of nuclear holocaust that haunted two generations of Americans. In our prayers we asked for God's help. I know our family did, and I expect all of you did. We asked for God's help. And now in this shining outcome, in this magnificent triumph of good over evil, we should thank God. We should give thanks.
By the way, I notice from your Washington newsletter that recently even Time magazine called the old Soviet Union an evil empire. Now they tell us. [Laughter] I think you will recall only a few years ago when -- many of you know this -- about the time when Bill Graham went to the Soviet Union. And he came back and told a lot of people, told us of the people's hunger for religion. And some did not believe him then. Nobody here doubted that, but some across our country simply could not believe that. But now, no one doubts him. I know evangelicals understood this all along.
Our victory in the cold war came from the kind of work performed by people here in this room. Many of you, many of you bravely brought Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, sharing the Word of God with people who longed for it. And through your World Relief Corporation and other enterprises, you helped resettle thousands who were fleeing oppression. Many evangelicals risked their lives to bring theological training where such training was forbidden.
And now in the free countries of the former Communist bloc, your work continues to ensure that the vacuum left by communism's demise is filled by faith. You and I both know there is more to do in the cause of religious freedom, and you have my full support in that effort. Rest assured, our country, indeed the world, will be forever grateful for what you have done.
Americans are the most religious people on Earth. And we have always instinctively sensed that God's purpose was bound up with the cause of liberty. The Founders understood this. As Jefferson put it, ``Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?'' That conviction is enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and in our Constitution. And it's no accident that in drafting our Bill of Rights, the Founders dedicated the first portion of our first amendment to religious liberty. We rightly emphasize the opening clause of that amendment, which forbids government from establishing religion. In fact, I believe the establishment clause has been a great boon to our country's religious life. One reason religion flourishes in America is that worship can never be controlled by the state.
But in recent times we have too often ignored the clause that follows, which forbids government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion. This myopia has in some places resulted in an aggressive campaign against religious belief itself. Some people seem to believe that freedom of religion requires government to keep our lives free from religion. Well, I believe they're just plain wrong. Our government was founded on faith. Government must never promote a religion, of course, but it is duty bound to promote religious liberty. And it must never put the believer at a disadvantage because of his belief. That is the challenge that our administration has undertaken. To be succinct, it is my conviction that children have a right to voluntary prayer in the public schools.
And we must hold the line on state intervention in other areas as well. Two years ago, for example, we were in a tough fight on Capitol Hill over child care legislation. But with the invaluable help of your group and of other pro-family organizations, we kept choice of child care out of the hands of the Government bureaucrats and kept it where it belongs, in the hands of the parents. And you remember the fight, but we were determined to help families get the kind of child care they want. And that included church-based care. And that's the way the law is now, and that's the way it should be.
And we will continue to fight for the parents' right to choose their children's schools. School choice is at the heart of America 2000, our strategy to literally revolutionize American education. All parents, rich or poor, must have the right to choose the kind of education their children will receive. And as I've said many times, that must include religious-based schools.
For many years Americans saw another disturbing trend. Judges legislating from the bench steadily expanded the power of government over the lives of ordinary Americans. Today, I am happy to report to you that that trend is over. Over the past 3 years I have appointed more than 160 judges who understand the limits of government and the rights of parents; judges who punish criminals, not honest cops out trying to do their jobs. And I am very proud of the two fine men who have taken their place on the Supreme Court since I've been President, Justice David Souter and Justice Clarence Thomas.
We must do everything in our power to preserve the institution that nurtures faith, the family. And I am firmly convinced that our greatest problems today, from drugs and welfare dependency to crime and moral breakdown, spring from the deterioration of the American family. And too often, overweening government has aided the tragedy.
Recently I announced a new Commission to isolate the causes of the family's decline. And I did that after meeting with Democratic mayors and Republican mayors from the National League of Cities, some from big cities, some from small, all saying what I've just said. The fundamental problem is the decline of the family, when you look at these urban problems. I think you'll agree that I found the right man to lead the Commission, your layman of the year last year, Governor John Ashcroft of the State of Missouri. John knows the importance that we place on strengthening the families. Families must come first in America.
We must always guard against laws that weaken the family, weaken traditional values. And at the same time, we can take positive steps to strengthen them. Here's an example that will begin to address the real costs of childrearing. I have asked Congress to increase the child tax exemption by 0 per child, and I want the Congress to do it now.
We're also waging war against the forces that would tear the family apart. In 1990 alone, our agents from the FBI and Customs and Postal Inspection Service won 245 convictions against the smut merchants who deal in child pornography. These creatures have been put on notice. There is no place in America for this horrifying exploitation of children.
Faith, family: these are the values that sustain the greatest Nation on Earth. And to these values we must add the infinitely precious value of life itself. Let me be clear: I support the right to life. Six times the Congress has sent me legislation permitting Federal funding of abortion, and six times I've told them no and vetoed these bills.
Now we've got another fight. The Democratic Congress has opened up yet another front in this battle. Tomorrow they will begin hearings on new legislation, and they call it the freedom of choice act. And it would impose on all 50 States an unprecedented regime of abortion on demand going well beyond even Roe versus Wade. It would block many State laws requiring that parents be told about abortions being performed on their young daughters, even though the Supreme Court has upheld such laws five times. It would override State laws restricting sex-selection abortions. And it would severely limit the States' ability to impose meaningful restrictions on abortions performed in the 8th or even the 9th month of pregnancy. This is not right. And it will not become law as long as I am President of the United States of America.
Lincoln once said, ``My concern is not whether God is on our side, but whether we are on God's side.'' As President I have often spoken of service, not simply public service but personal service, one human being coming to the aid of another. And I'm always reminded of a phrase from the Book of Common Prayer: ``Oh, God . . . whose service is freedom.'' We must be sustained by the confidence that in serving others, in promoting the values of faith and family and life, we serve Him as well. It is this confidence that will enable us to move our country forward in faith, and remember, one Nation under God.
Thank you, and may God bless you and your wonderful work. And thank you for having me with you.
Note: The President spoke at 11:57 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to association officers B. Edgar Johnson, president; Billy Melvin, executive director; Don Argue, first vice president; David Rambo, second director; and Robert Dugan, director of the office of public affairs in Washington, DC. The President also referred to evangelist Billy Graham.