Remarks by Telephone to
the Annual Convention of the Knights of Columbus in Chicago, Illinois
August 5, 1986
Thank you all, and good afternoon. There are far too many
distinguished members and friends of the Knights of Columbus with you today for
me to recognize them all, but permit me to extend my greetings to Your
Excellencies and, of course, to the leader of the Knights of Columbus, my
friend, Supreme Knight Virgil Dechant. I believe you
know we're trying out a new technology today -- one with a hookup that will
enable me to hear you, as you've been told, if you laugh or applaud. And I
thought the best way to test it would be to tell an old story. So, if you'll
has to do with a young fellow that arrived in New YorkHarbor from Ireland, an immigrant to our
country. And a short time later, he started across one of those busy New York streets against the
light. And one of New York's finest, a big
policeman, grabbed him and said, ``Where do you think you're going?'' ``Well,''
he says, ``I'm only trying to get to the other side of the street there.''
Well, when that New York policeman, Irish
himself, heard that brogue, ``Well,'' he said, ``Now, lad, wait.'' He says, ``You stay here until the light turns green, and then you go
to the other side of the street.'' ``Aah,'' he says,
``the light turns green.'' Well, the light turned orange for just a few
seconds, as it does, and then turned green, and he started out across the
street. He got about 15 feet out and he turned around, and he says, ``They don't give them Protestants much time, do they?''
you know, this system does work. [Laughter] But I want to tell you that I've
had a place in my heart for the Knights of Columbus since I was a boy. You see,
my father was a Knight, and he never missed an opportunity to express his pride
in the K of C or join in its efforts on behalf of charity and tolerance. I can
still remember when the silent picture ``Birth of a Nation'' opened in our
hometown. Dad told us that the movie portrayed the Ku Klux Klan in a favorable
light and that the Reagans were one family that
wouldn't be seeing it. Well, even as a boy, I sensed that in taking that stand
my father had done something strong and good, something noble. And you know, to
this day I've never seen that famous movie.
becoming President, my appreciation for the Knights of Columbus has deepened.
You can't sit where I'm sitting now and fail to understand the importance of
Americans who give as much to our nation as you do. Last year alone the Knights
donated over $66 million to good causes, provided more than 20 million hours of
volunteer community service, responded generously to OPERATION: Care and Share,
and contributed $1 million to the restoration of the Statue of Liberty. And
then there are the scores of neighborhoods throughout the country where the
Knights have provided a playground, a basketball court, a football field. Just
the other day our Secretary of Education, Bill Bennett, remarked that when he
was growing up in Brooklyn, none of the kids used the words ``swimming
pool,'' they just told their parents they'd be down at the K of C.
of Columbus, for all you've given America, for all the countless
acts of charity you've performed to make our land kinder, friendlier, happier,
and more humane, I convey to you the thanks of your country. All that you do as
Knights of Columbus arises from the fundamental values you hold so dear -- your
belief in a just and loving God, in the validity of hard work, in the central
importance of the family. When I talked about these fundamental values myself
during the campaign of 1980, there was a certain amount of questioning, even
criticism. And then came the campaign of 1984, and I know you must have been as
gratified as I was to hear both sides talking about values like neighborhood
and family. But it was the Knights who led the way, stressing the importance of
fundamental values long before you were joined by me or any other politician.
For this, too, well, I thank you, and I think you deserve to give yourselves a
your concern for the basic and life-giving values remains ardent, and I know
you feel deeply that nothing offends fundamental morality more gravely than
assaults upon the sanctity of life itself. Your church and the Knights of
Columbus have been leaders in the fight against abortion from the first.
Recently, Cardinals O'Connor and Law demonstrated the church's commitment to
this cause anew. They announced that any woman in their dioceses who could go
to the church for help so that none -- not one -- would feel forced to have an
abortion because she lacked the resources or guidance to deliver her child.
Knights of Columbus, I know you join me in
applauding that action as innovative and altogether courageous. The K of C has
long funded prolife efforts, and now Supreme Knight Dechant has announced a new initiative of your own. In his
words, you've decided to ``harness your clout'' to restore legal protection to
you put this new project into effect, you can be certain you'll be accused of
mixing religion and politics. I receive the same criticism myself for
supporting prolife legislation. Yet virtually every
law in America is predicated upon the
value and dignity of human life. Respect for human life belongs in the public
realm; indeed, it represents the very basis of civilization. I know you agree.
It is not our heritage as Americans to turn our backs on massive, legalized
abortion. Today we proclaim what our heritage has always maintained: that all
human life is sacred.
the institution in which men and women receive their most basic instruction and
nurturing, the family is likewise sacred; something the Knights of Columbus
have understood from the first. My friends, don't you believe the Federal
Government should respect the family just as much as you do? [Applause] Since
taking office, we've worked to bring government interference in family life to
an end, rolling back intrusive rules and regulations. Indeed, later this year,
our Domestic Policy Council will report to me on ways Federal programs could be
restructured to strengthen families and promote family values. We've proposed
an historic tax reform that will raise the exemption for dependents from just
over $1,000 all the way to $2,000. Thanks to your help, this tax reform is
nearing final passage by Congress.
just yesterday I announced our most recent family initiative, a dramatic
undertaking intended to bring to an end one of the worst social evils besetting
our country -- drug abuse. Too many American families have been destroyed, too
many parents' hearts broken, too many young lives lost. After discussing this
problem with Supreme Knight Dechant just last week, I
know you agree -- it's time the United States took drug abuse head
many areas -- abortion, crime, pornography, and others -- progress will take
place when the Federal judiciary is made up of judges who believe in law and
order and a strict interpretation of the Constitution. I'm pleased to be able
to tell you that I've already appointed 284 Federal judges, men and women who
share the fundamental values that you and I so cherish, and that by the time we
leave office, our administration will have appointed some 45 percent of all
Federal judges. And I know you share my satisfaction in the Supreme Court
nominations of Justice William Rehnquist and Judge AntoninScalia. I was especially delighted because, as some
of you may know, Judge Scalia is the first
Italian-American to be nominated to the Supreme Court in history.
me to turn now to the issue I most want to discuss with you today, a matter
much on my mind. I speak of the struggle for freedom in Nicaragua. There's a brave
Nicaraguan who knows all about this. Perhaps you've heard the story of Bishop
Pablo Antonio Vega. During the Somoza dictatorship, Bishop Vega was an
undaunted spokesman for the rights of his people. Last month he met in Nicaragua with members of the
press. Bishop Vega stood up for his people again, asserting that Nicaraguans, and I quote, ``have a right to defend
themselves.'' Two days later he was exiled from his country. In his words,
these days ``the only public opinion in Nicaragua is silence.''
Bishop Vega's case makes clear, the Communist regime in Nicaragua has moved beyond the
trampling of general civil liberties to a brutal persecution of the church. The
Communists have silenced the church's radio station, stopped its presses, and
subjected priests to organized harassment. Churches have been attacked by
Communist gangs; in at least one case, a gang carrying machetes and chains.
Cardinal Obando y Bravo, who opposed the Somoza
dictatorship the Sandinistas overthrew, now finds himself confronted with a new
dictatorship. ``In my 18 years as a bishop,'' the Cardinal said recently,
``I've never seen a situation as grave as this. This is the worst persecution
the church has seen in Nicaragua.''
yet, despite Communist brutality, the struggle for freedom in Nicaragua goes on. By the
thousands, men and women have moved into the countryside and taken up arms.
Today these democratic resistance forces number more than 20,000, over four
times the number of troops the Sandinistas had in the field when they
themselves came to power. The members of this resistance have chosen to
separate themselves from their families and homes; to live in conditions of
immense hardship, often with scant water and food; and to expose themselves to
the dangers of battle. They fight for freedom. And I know you
agree, they deserve our help. To support the freedom fighters and
democracy throughout Central America, I've urged Congress to
enact a plan to provide Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala with essential economic
assistance and to extend $100 million in urgently needed aid to the Nicaraguan
resistance. Six weeks ago, the House approved that plan. Now, the Senate must
me state it clearly: Further delay is risking the lives of Nicaraguan patriots.
We need that assistance now. For us to fail to provide the necessary support
for the contras would be to risk the permanent loss of Nicaragua to the west, the
permanent relegation of Nicaragua to the Soviet bloc. I
must stress that neither the democratic resistance nor our administration seeks
a purely military solution. Instead, the freedom fighters seek leverage to
bring the Communists to the table and negotiate a political and democratic
peace. So far, the Communists have been intransigent because they believed they
could afford to be; each day the military situation in Nicaragua has been twisting
another degree in their favor. But when the Senate approves our aid package,
the forces of freedom in Nicaragua will be given a chance,
a good chance.
the historical context. Just 10 years ago less than one-third of the people of Latin America lived in democracies.
Today 90 percent live in democracies, or in systems moving toward democracy. As
far as 5 years -- few, I should say, as 5 years ago many considered El Salvador
lost to communism; others claimed there was no hope for Honduras and Guatemala.
Well, today those nations are democracies. Today, indeed, democracy in Latin America constitutes a swelling
and life-giving tide. With our help, it can still flood its powerful, cleansing
way into Nicaragua, sweeping aside the
Communist wall that has been holding it out, enabling the people to hold free
elections and experience genuine liberty. With our help and our prayers, my
friends, I just have to believe that we're called to offer both.
struggle for freedom in Nicaragua, the effort to defend and strengthen the
American family, and, yes, the fight against abortion -- all these find a
common basis in our belief in a just and loving God, a God who created
humankind in his image. ``Without the fostering and defense of these values,''
the Holy Father said when I visited him in Rome, ``all human
advancement is stunted and the very dignity of the human person is
endangered.'' The Pope expressed his fervent hope ``that the entire structure
of American life will rest ever more securely on the strong foundation of moral
and spiritual values.''
let us pray that this should come to pass. And let us do what the Knights of
Columbus have always been especially good at: Let us work to make it so. Thank
you all, and God bless you all.
The President spoke at from the Oval Office at
the White House. The convention was held at the Chicago Hilton Hotel.