Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Women Leaders of Christian Religious Organizations

October 13, 1983

The President. Thank you all very much, and good afternoon. And thank you also for honoring us by coming by here today. I'm very grateful to have this chance to speak with you. Many groups come to visit here, but I believe yours is the first leadership group of Christian women to be welcomed to the White House in a long, long time, and I'm glad to be the one that's doing the greeting. I won't speculate why this hasn't been done before. I only know that as long as I'm President, your group and others who stand up for our Judeo-Christian values will be welcome here, because you belong here.

I can't say strongly enough what a tremendous force for good you are. As life-bearers, carrying on traditions of family in the home, but also in our schools, the corporate world, in the workplace, you're teachers of cooperation, tolerance, compassion, and responsibility. No greater truth shines through than the one you live by every day: that preserving America must begin with faith in the God who has blessed our land. And we don't have the answers; He does.

Isaiah reminded us that ``The Lord opens His gates and keeps in peace the nation that trusts in Him.'' I hope you won't mind my saying I think I know you all very well. Nelle Reagan, my mother, God rest her soul, had an unshakable faith in God's goodness. And while I may not have realized it in my youth, I know now that she planted that faith very deeply in me. She made the most difficult Christian message seem very easy. And, like you, she knew you could never repay one bad deed with another. Her way was forgiveness and goodness, and both began with love.

For some time now I believe that America has been hungering for a return to spiritual values that some of us fear we've tended to forget -- things like faith, families, family values, the bedrock of our nation. Thanks to the creation of new networks of faith by so many of you and your families, we're seeing more clearly again. We're remembering that freedom carries responsibilities. And we're not set free so that we can become slaves to sin.

The Founding Fathers believed that faith in God was the key to our being a good people and America's becoming a great nation. George Washington kissed the Bible at his inauguration. And to those who would have government separate us from religion, he had these words: ``Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.'' And Ben Franklin, at the time when they were struggling with what was to be the American Constitution, finally one day said to those who were working with him that, ``Without God's help, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.'' And if we ever forget that, we're lost. From that day on they opened all of the constitutional meetings with prayer.

I pray that we won't lose that idea, and that's why I was motivated to proclaim or designate 1983 the Year of the Bible.

And I hope that we will also recognize the true meaning of the first amendment. Its words were meant to guarantee freedom of religion to everyone. But I believe the first amendment has been twisted to the point that freedom of religion is in danger of becoming freedom from religion. But keep the faith. This year the Supreme Court took two big steps toward common sense. [Laughter] It said that the first amendment does not prevent legislators in the Nebraska State Assembly from hiring a chaplain to open their sessions with prayer. And it said the Constitution does not prevent the State of Minnesota from giving a tax break to parents who choose private or religious schooling for their children. In both cases the Court decided in favor of what our Justice Department recommended in friend of the court briefs.

Now we're making another recommendation. We believe the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and for that matter, any city in America, has the right to include the Nativity scene as part of its annual Christmas performance.

Government is not supposed to wage war against God and religion, not in the United States of America. I want to see the Congress act on our constitutional amendment permitting voluntary prayer in America's schoolrooms. And here you can be our greatest help. Tell the millions of our friends to send a message of thunder from the grassroots, fill the halls of Congress with calls, with letters and telegrams -- not postcards. I understand they don't take postcards as seriously as they take letters. [Laughter] And tell them, ``The people have waited too long; we want action.''

We think it's also time for a vote on tuition tax credits. Education's the fundamental right and responsibility of every parent. And we should remember that those who pay private tuition also pay their full share of taxes to support the public school system. Tuition tax credits would only threaten public schools if you believe that more competition, greater parental choice, and stronger local control will make our schools worse, not better.

Finally, let me just say a few words about another part of freedom that is under siege: the sanctity of human life. Either the law protects human beings, or it doesn't. When we're dealing with a handicapped child -- say, a mentally retarded baby girl who needs medical care to survive, is she not entitled to the protection of the law? Will she be denied her chance for love and life because someone decides she's too weak to warrant our help, or because someone has taken it upon themselves to decide the quality of her life doesn't justify keeping her alive? Is that not God's decision to make? And isn't it our duty to serve even the least of these for in so doing, we serve Him?

Our administration has tried to make sure the handicapped receive the respect of the law for the dignity of their lives. And the same holds true, I believe deeply, for the unborn. It may not help me in some polls to say this publicly, but until and unless it can be proven that the unborn child is not a living human being -- and I don't think it can be proven -- then we must protect the right of the unborn to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Now, I've been talking longer than I intended, because I had a little something else to suggest here. But hardly a day goes by that I'm not told -- sometimes in letters and sometimes by people that I meet and perfect strangers -- and they tell me that they're praying for me. Well, thanks to Nelle Reagan, I believe in intercessionary prayer. And I know that those prayers are giving me a strength that I otherwise would not possess.

I believe in the goodness of our people. And yet, I wonder if we shouldn't be reminded of the promise in Second Chronicles: ``If my people which are called by my name shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.''

Well, now, I'm not going to say anything else for a little bit in the line of talking, because I just thought we might have a dialog. I know I only have a few minutes here to be with you. But sometime, some of you must have said, ``If I had a chance, I would ask him -- '' [Laughter] So, why don't you ask me?

Yes?

The Supreme Court

Q. Mr. President, I was very interested -- and if you had noticed, I was the first one to laugh and applaud when you mentioned the Supreme Court. I'm very concerned about the Supreme Court -- nine unelected officials with no expiration date other than death, legislating morality in this country, abortion being the prime topic. Could you address that, please?

The President. Well, yes. I think we have to face the fact that there are too many times when the Court does not interpret the law, but does legislate. And I think then it is up to the people through their elected representatives to such as an amendment with regard to prayer in schools, an amendment regarding abortion, to correct that with law.

We're separated into three branches of government, and we're supposed to be blessed with checks and balances. And I don't suppose there's ever a time that one branch or the other doesn't try to seize more authority than it should have. Then it's up to those checks and balances to go to work. And I believe we've been through a period in which the Court has tended to legislate rather than interpret.

Q. The part that concerns me so much is that, you know, a lot of people say, well, we can't have prayer in schools, we can't do these things that are our God-given right, and yet, they are legislating to the other side, in other words, to the negative side -- --

The President. Yes.

Q. -- -- and to the sinful way. And they're calling -- I mean, God calls abortion murder. That's what He calls it.

The President. Well, as a matter of fact, I have challenged sometimes that maybe those of us who are trying for a constitutional amendment or something, maybe we've missed an opportunity. And that is the thing that I mentioned in my remarks. The Constitution protects life, liberty and so forth. And all we need to do, I think, is demand that someone either prove to us that the unborn is not a living being, or then recognize that it is already entitled to consitutional protection. And we have such dichotomy in the law.

Just recently there was a man arrested in Virginia. He has been tried for, believe it or not, feticide. What happened, he was robbing a public place, and a woman evidenced that -- a young lady -- that she perhaps recognized him, and he shot her in cold blood. He wounded her but killed the baby that she was carrying. Now, under the law, he is now arrested, not charged with wounding her, charged with killing the unborn child. Now, how can we rule that she could have killed the unborn child if she wanted to, and it was called abortion?

And I know in our own State of California that there was a case where a man beat his common law wife so severely that her unborn child was killed. And the legislature of California some years ago unanimously and almost instantaneously passed a law that anyone who maltreats a woman with child to the extent of causing the death of the unborn child shall be tried for murder. Now, if it's murder, then it's murder all the way.

Mrs. Reagan

Q. Mr. President, would you please convey to the First Lady that our prayers are with her for her continued strength, that she's a great First Lady -- [inaudible].

The President. Thank you. I will. And may I put your mind at ease that some of those rumors that started out -- yes, she has lost some weight. She -- a death in her family that affected her greatly when her father died, her mother's illness, and she had lost some weight. But she caught cold. [Laughter] And I can assure you she was in New York yesterday to appear for 2 hours on the ``Good Morning America'' show with regard to drug abuse.

No, she's feeling fine, and all the rumors, I guess, when there isn't any real news, you pick rumors. [Laughter]

Women's Issues

Q. Mr. President, are you planning between now and election time to have a couple of televised, well-publicized televised portions on -- that will show what you have done for women in the United States? We think your record is fantastic, but the grassroots voter is not hearing it because the press is only giving them the feminist view, and we want everybody to hear the truth. And I think we need to have it right directly from you.

The President. Believe me, I don't know -- [applause] -- thank you. I don't know just what procedure we're going to use to do this, but I have to tell you that I think our record with regard to what we have done for women is probably one of the best kept secrets in Washington.

They've just signaled me that -- I'm getting the signal that -- does that mean one more or -- --

Ms. Whittlesey. [Faith Ryan Whittlesey, Assistant to the President for Public Liaison.] One more.

The President. All right. Why don't we go down here and then -- --

Year of the Bible Proclamation

Q. Mr. President, sir, I want to thank you for proclaiming 1983 as the Year of the Bible, and I think I can speak for all Christians everywhere. But there is something in that proclamation that was a little bit unsettling, and I'd like for you to explain it to me. It said that the world is facing a tremendous challenge in the next decade. And more important than armament, than the resources of armament, more important than the resources of technology, and more important than the resources of education is resources of spirit. And I'd like to know what you mean by -- that's the most important thing facing us.

The President. Well, because of what I said, I think, in my remarks here -- I have believed for a long time that we got off the track and our young people got off the track. And we saw a period in the generation gap where young people were discarding all the tried-and-true values upon which civilization has been based. And the only reason for discarding them was that they were old. And I then began saying that I sensed that there was a hunger in America for a spiritual revival.

And I think that -- yes, all the things that we may want to do -- all the strength of military and so forth -- all of these things are useless if we as a people are not dedicated to those values. And the basic values -- and, believe me, I don't want a war and I believe that if we have the right kind of military with the right strength, they will never have to use the science they have learned. But the great values that make for civilization are the values for which people have always been willing to die. And that we must have.

I have to cut off the questions now, but do you mind just sitting for a minute while I take advantage of you and deliver a news note here, an announcement for the press that is present?

It's not often that I have a chance to be the first with some news. [Laughter] It usually leaks before I get around to it. But I want to share with you a decision that I've just made.

Secretary of the Interior

After examining the records of more than two dozen fine, potential nominees for the position of Secretary of the Interior, I have decided to turn once again to someone who has been a troubleshooter and a result-oriented professional. So, it is with a good deal of pleasure that I tell you that I have asked my Assistant for National Security Affairs, Judge Bill Clark, to be my nominee for this Cabinet position. He is a God-fearing westerner, fourth generation rancher, and a person I trust. And I think he will be a great Secretary of the Interior. And may I just tell you, I think he is succeeding a very fine Secretary of the Interior.

Note: The President spoke at 5:10 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.