Thunderous applause for John 3:16.

President Reagan opened his reelection campaign by aligning himself more closely than ever before with conservative Christian moral causes.

On the day after declaring his candidacy for a second term, Reagan addressed a 4,000-strong convention of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) in Washington, D.C. He threw down the gauntlet against abortionists and against courts that have barred voluntary school prayer and have not ordered extensive medical help for severely handicapped infants. He recalled the American Civil Liberty Union’s dissatisfaction with his declaration of 1983 as the Year of the Bible, and he said, “I wear that indictment like a badge of honor.”

Reagan’s 25-minute speech to the broadcasters was interrupted 23 times by applause, including six thunderous, standing ovations. The longest was in response to his quotation of John 3:16, with its unequivocating declaration of belief in Jesus Christ as Savior and provider of eternal life. By his use of that verse, Reagan seems to have staked himself clearly to the tenets of evangelical Christianity and gone beyond the safe borders of civil religion, to which most Presidents pay homage.

The NRB is composed of more than 1,000 organizations that produce radio and television programs and operate religious radio, television, and cable stations. Religious broadcasting is a fast-growing industry. Last year the number of television stations with a religious format increased 21 percent, from 65 to 79. The number of religious radio stations increased 13 percent, from 922 to 1,045. The number of firms producing religious television programs and films for use in the United States increased 30 percent, from 280 to 365.

With a conservative evangelical focus, NRB represents 75 percent of the religious broadcast industry in the United States. Its annual conventions in Washington, D.C., are addressed by leading evangelical preachers and broadcasters. In recent years they have focused more and more on public moral issues such as abortion and infanticide. The theme of this year’s convention was “Facing the Issues,” and no speaker faced them more directly than Reagan.

Following are excerpts from Reagan’s address:

“Nineteen eighty-three was the year more of us read the Good Book. Can we make a resolution here today: That 1984 will be the year we put its great truths into action?

“My experience in this office I hold has only deepened a belief I’ve held for many years: Within the covers of that single Book are all the answers to all the problems that face us today—if only we’d read and believe …

“I know what I am about to say now is controversial, but I have to say it. This nation cannot continue turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the taking of some 4,000 unborn children’s lives every day. That’s one every 21 seconds. We cannot pretend America is preserving her first and highest ideal—the belief that each life is sacred—when we have permitted the death of 15 million helpless innocents since the Roe v. Wade decision.

“Fifteen million children who will never laugh, never sing, never know the joy of human love; will never strive to heal the sick, feed the poor, or make peace among nations. Abortion has denied them the most basic of human rights. We are all infinitely poorer for their loss.…

“I think we are making progress in upholding the sanctity of life of infants born with physical or mental handicaps. The Department of Health and Human Services has now published final regulations to address cases such as Baby Doe in Bloomington [Ind.]. That child was denied lifesaving surgery and starved to death because he had Down’s syndrome; and some people didn’t think his life would be worth living. Not too long ago I was privileged to meet in the Oval Office a charming little girl filled with the joy of living. She was on crutches, but she swims and rides horseback. Her smile steals your heart. She was born with the same defects as those ‘Baby Does’ who have been denied the right to life.

“Restoring the right to life and protecting people from violence and exploitation are important responsibilities. But as members of God’s family we share another—helping to build a foundation of faith and knowledge to prepare our children for the challenges of life. ‘Train up a child in the way he should go,’ Solomon wrote, ‘and when he is old he will not depart from it.’

“Teddy Roosevelt told us, ‘The American people are slow to wrath, but when their wrath is once kindled, it burns like a consuming flame.’ I think Americans are getting angry. I think they have a message, and Congress better listen: We are a government of, by, and for the people. And people want a constitutional amendment making it unequivocally clear our children can hold voluntary prayer in every school across this land. And if we could get God and discipline back in our schools, maybe we could get drugs and violence out. I know that some believe prayer in schools should be restricted to a moment of silence. Well, we already have the right to remain silent. We need a new amendment to restore the rights that were taken from us. Senator [Howard] Baker has assured us we will get a vote on our amendment. With your help, we can win. And that will be a great victory for our children.

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“ ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ I’m a little self-conscious, because I know you all could recite that verse to me. Helping each other, believing in him, we need never be afraid. We will be part of something far more powerful, enduring, and good than all the forces here on earth. We will be a part of paradise. May God keep you always, and may you always keep God.”

TOM MINNERYin Washington

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