President Reagan declared 1983 the Year of the Bible during his address at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., on February 3. Three days earlier, he addressed a session of the National Religious Broadcasters convention on the theme of the Bible. His 21-minute speech was interrupted by applause 15 times.
Christianity Today's March 4, 1983 issue, excerpted the speech. Here it is printed in full.
Thank you all very much, and thank you, Brandt Gustavson. [President of the National Religious Broadcasters]. Ladies and gentlemen, the distinguished guests, thank you all very much.
I had a little problem last night myself with regard to my name. [Laughter] I thought about a week ago that maybe I would persuade someone to change their name from Riggins to Reagan. [Laughter] But after yesterday afternoon, I thought maybe I ought to change my name to his. [Laughter]
You all have an expression among you that—well, first of all, you confess to being poor audiences for others; I haven't found it so. But you also have an expression about preaching to the choir. I don't know just exactly what my address, how that fits under that today, but what a wonderful sight you are.
In a few days I'll be celebrating another birthday, which, according to some in the press, puts me on a par with Moses. [Laughter] That doesn't really bother me, because every year when I come here, when I look out at your warm and caring faces, I get a very special feeling, like being born again.
There's something else I've been noticing. In a time when recession has gripped our land, your industry, religious broadcasting, has enjoyed phenomenal growth. Now, there may be some who are frightened by your success, but I'm not one of them. As far as I'm concerned, the growth of religious broadcasting is one of the most heartening signs in America today.
When we realize that every penny of that growth is being funded voluntarily by citizens of every stripe, we see an important truth. It's something that I have been speaking of for quite some time—that the American people are hungry for your message, because they're hungry for a spiritual revival in this land. When Americans reach out for values of faith, family, and caring for the needy, they're saying, "We want the word of God. We want to face the future with the Bible.''
Facing the future with the Bible—that's a perfect theme for your convention. You might be happy to hear that I have some "good news'' of my own. Thursday morning, at the National Prayer Breakfast, I will sign a proclamation making 1983 the Year of the Bible.
We're blessed to have its words of strength, comfort, and truth. I'm accused of being simplistic at times with some of the problems that confront us. But I've often wondered: Within the covers of that single Book are all the answers to all the problems that face us today, if we'd only look there. "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the word of our God shall stand forever.'' I hope Americans will read and study the Bible in 1983. It's my firm belief that the enduring values, as I say, presented in its pages have a great meaning for each of us and for our nation. The Bible can touch our hearts, order our minds, refresh our souls.
Now, I realize it's fashionable in some circles to believe that no one in government should order or encourage others to read the Bible. Encourage—I shouldn't have said order. We're told that will violate the constitutional separation of church and state established by the Founding Fathers in the first amendment.
Well, it might interest those critics to know that none other than the Father of our Country, George Washington, kissed the Bible at his inauguration. And he also said words to the effect that there could be no real morality in a society without religion.
John Adams called it "the best book in the world.'' And Ben Franklin said, " … the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men … without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little, partial, local interests, our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach, a bye-word down to future ages.''
So, when I hear the first amendment used as a reason to keep the traditional moral values away from policymaking, I'm shocked. The first amendment was not written to protect people and their laws from religious values; it was written to protect those values from government tyranny.
I've always believed that this blessed land was set apart in a special way, that some divine plan placed this great continent here between the two oceans to be found by people from every corner of the Earth—people who had a special love for freedom and the courage to uproot themselves, leave their homeland and friends to come to a strange land. And, when coming here, they created something new in all the history of mankind—a country where man is not beholden to government, government is beholden to man.
I happen to believe that one way to promote, indeed, to preserve those traditional values we share is by permitting our children to begin their days the same way the Members of the United States Congress do—with prayer. The public expression of our faith in God, through prayer, is fundamental—as a part of our American heritage and a privilege which should not be excluded from our schools.
No one must be forced or pressured to take part in any religious exercise. But neither should the freest country on Earth ever have permitted God to be expelled from the classroom. When the Supreme Court ruled that school prayer was unconstitutional almost 21 years ago, I believe it ruled wrong. And when a lower court recently stopped Lubbock, Texas, high school students from even holding voluntary prayer meetings on the campus before or after class, it ruled wrong, too.
Our only hope for tomorrow is in the faces of our children. And we know Jesus said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of God.'' Well, last year we tried to pass an amendment that would allow communities to determine for themselves whether voluntary prayer should be permitted in their public schools. And we failed. But I want you to know something: I'm determined to bring that amendment back again and again and again and again, until [applause]Â
You know, we were frustrated on two other fronts last year. There are 5 million American children attending private schools today because of emphasis on religious values and educational standards. Their families, most of whom earn less than $25,000 a year, pay private tuition, and they also pay their full share of taxes to fund the public schools. We think they're entitled to relief. So, I want you to know that shortly, we'll be sending legislation back up to the Hill, and we will begin the struggle all over again to secure tuition tax credits for deserving families.
There's another struggle we must wage to redress a great national wrong. We must go forward with unity of purpose and will. And let us come together, Christians and Jews, let us pray together, march, lobby, and mobilize every force we have, so that we can end the tragic taking of unborn children's lives. Who among us can imagine the excruciating pain the unborn must feel as their lives are snuffed away? And we know medically they do feel pain.
I'm glad that a "respect human life'' bill has already been introduced in Congress by Representative Henry Hyde. Not only does this bill strengthen and expand restrictions on abortions financed by tax dollars, it also addresses the problem of infanticide. It makes clear the right of all children, including those who are born handicapped, to food and appropriate medical treatment after birth, and it has the full support of this administration.
I know that many well-intentioned, sincerely motivated people believe that government intervention violates a woman's right of choice. And they would be right if there were any proof that the unborn are not living human beings. Medical evidence indicates to the contrary and, if that were not enough, how do we explain the survival of babies who are born prematurely, some very prematurely?
We once believed that the heart didn't start beating until the fifth month. But as medical instrumentation has improved, we've learned the heart was beating long before that. Doesn't the constitutional protection of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness extend to the unborn unless it can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that life does not exist in the unborn? And I believe the burden of proof is on those who would make that point.
I read in the Washington Post about a young woman named Victoria. She's with child, and she said, "In this society we save whales, we save timber wolves and bald eagles and Coke bottles. Yet everyone wanted me to throw away my baby.'' Well, Victoria's story has a happy ending. Her baby will be born.
Victoria has received assistance from a Christian couple, and from Sav-A-Life, a new Dallas group run by Jim McKee, a concerned citizen who thinks it's important to provide constructive alternatives to abortion. There's hope for America. She remains powerful and a powerful force for good, and it's thanks to the conviction and commitment of people like those who are helping Victoria. They're living the meaning of the two great commandments: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might'' and "thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.''
Each year, government bureaucracies spend bills [billions] for problems related to drugs and alcoholism and disease. Has anyone stopped to consider that we might come closer to balancing the budget if all of us simply tried to live up to the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule?
That's what's happening with CBN and the 700 Club's "Operation Blessing.'' They've given nearly $2 1/2 million to more than 8,500 churches, and this money is then matched by the local churches. The result has been fantastic: More than 100,000 needy families helped, either through direct or in-kind contributions, ranging from food and clothing to education, dental care, and housework.
The PTL - TV network is carrying out "A Master Plan for People that Love,'' opening centers all across the country to provide food, clothing, furniture, and job bank centers at no cost. Don't listen to those cynics—some of them here in the Capital—who would run our country down. America's heart is strong, and its heart is good.
You know, I mentioned drugs a moment ago. And I hope you'll forgive me if I digress just long enough—because I don't often get the chance to say this publicly—how proud I am of Nancy and the job she's doing helping to fight drug addiction.
I do that every day for her. [Laughter]
I know that each of you is contributing in your own way to rebuilding America, and I thank you. As broadcasters, you have unique opportunities. And all of us, as Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, have a special responsibility to remember our fellow believers who are being persecuted in other lands. We're all children of Abraham. We're children of the same God.
You might be interested to know about a few of the changes that we're making at the Voice of America. Our transmissions of Christian and Jewish broadcasts are being expanded and improved. This year, for the first time in history, the Voice of America broadcast a religious service worldwide—Christmas Eve at the National Presbyterian Church, in Washington, D.C.
Now, these broadcasts are not popular with governments of totalitarian powers. But make no mistake, we have a duty to broadcast. Aleksandr Herzen, the Russian writer, warned, "To shrink from saying a word in defense of the oppressed is as bad as any crime." Well, I pledge to you that America will stand up, speak out, and defend the values we share. To those who would crush religious freedom, our message is plain: You may jail your believers. You may close their churches, confiscate their Bibles, and harass their rabbis and priests, but you will never destroy the love of God and freedom that burns in their hearts. They will triumph over you.
Malcolm Muggeridge, the brilliant English commentator, has written, "The most important happening in the world today is the resurgence of Christianity in the Soviet Union, demonstrating that the whole effort sustained over 60 years to brainwash the Russian people into accepting materialism has been a fiasco."
Think of it: the most awesome military machine in history, but it is no match for that one, single man, hero, strong yet tender, Prince of Peace. His name alone, Jesus, can lift our hearts, soothe our sorrows, heal our wounds, and drive away our fears. He gave us love and forgiveness. He taught us truth and left us hope. In the Book of John is the promise that we all go by—tells us that "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."
With His message and with your conviction and commitment, we can still move mountains. We can work to reach our dreams and to make America a shining city on a hill. Before I say goodby, I wanted to leave with you these words from an old Netherlands folk song, because they made me think of our meeting here today:
We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing.
We all do extol Thee, Thou leader triumphant
And pray that Thou still our Defender wilt be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation.
Thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!
To which I would only add a line from another song: America, America, God shed His grace on thee.
Thank you again.
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