National Press Club Speech given by Ralph Reed Thank you for that generous introduction. A

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National Press Club Speech given by Ralph Reed Thank you for that generous introduction. Anyone who is - as I am - engaged as a participant in the rough and tumble of politics, has reflected often on the wisdom of our founders in granting special protection to freedom of the press, just as they did to the freedom of religious expression. The movement that I represent, the pro-family movement, is engaged in an ongoing dialogue with you in the media and with the American people about who we are, what we believe, and what we seek for this nation. So it is a distinct pleasure and a genuine honor to be with you today in this, one of the great citadels of our democracy. In 27 days the American people will go to the polls in what is certain to be one of the most consequential elections of the post-World War II period. It is far too early to make predictions about the outcome of this campaign. But one thing is certain: religious conservatives are likely to have a major impact, not only in this election, but in American politics for years to come. So it behooves us not to stereotype them, marginalize them, or attempt to demonize their leaders. It is our responsibility to understand them, what causes them to get involved with politics, and what kind of America they believe in. Who are these citizens and what has motivated them to become involved? We know from extensive survey data that religious conservatives represent about one-fourth of the entire electorate, one of the largest voting blocks in the entire electorate - maybe the largest. The VRS exit polls in 1992 found that one out of four voters personally identified to a conversion experience and testified that they went to church four times or more a month. In a recent Newsweek poll, the number was as high as 31 percent. Almost one out of three voters that will darken the threshold of a voting booth 27 days from now will be a religious conservative. Contrary to the popular stereotype, it is not a male-dominated movement. Indeed, according to the Newsweek poll, 62 percent are female, only 38 percent male. Half of those women work outside the home. Seventy-six percent of them are married, and 66 percent have children. And contrary to another stereotype, they are not- poor, uneducated and easy to command. Sixty-six percent of them either have attended or have graduated from college. Fourteen percent have advanced professional or graduate degrees, a figure that is 3 percent higher than the general population. In terms of party affiliation, little more than half are Republicans, between one-third and 40 percent are Democrats and the rest are independents. Two-thirds are Protestant, and one-third is Roman Catholic. They are well-educated, middle-class baby boomers whose primary concern is the safety, protection and education of their children. We believe that in a democracy any segment of the electorate so large and diverse deserves a voice in our government commensurate with its numbers. That is why the Christian Coalition has undertaken the largest nonpartisan voter education and get-out-the-vote effort in its history. In the next several weeks we will distribute 33 million nonpartisan voter guides that detail where every candidate stands on a broad range of issues: taxes, spending, crime, drugs, education, term limits, abortion and health care. These nonpartisan voter guides will be distributed in shopping centers, churches, synagogues, union halls and polling locations - wherever voters gather. They will not endorse any candidate. But they will give voters of both parties and all faiths the information they need to cast an informed ballot on Nov. 8. Between now and Election Day we will continue to advance the issues in which we believe, always endeavoring to do so with grace, with dignity, and with respect for our opponents. But we will not measure our success on the outcome of these races. For there is at stake in America today an issue far more profound than the fortunes of any candidate or political party. It is the outcome of a debate about the role that religion should play in our public life and the role that religious people and values should have in influencing government policy. There is an emerging consensus in the land about the need for values in both our private and public lives. Nesting baby boomers are returning to the churches and synagogues of their youth to give spiritual anchors to their children. Newsweek recently put Jesus on its cover. In a remarkable cover story this April, U.S. News found that 57 percent of the American people pray daily and 80 percent believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. It concluded that, apart from Israel, America is the most religious nation in the world. Winston Churchill once said, "The American people always do the right thing-after they have exhausted every other possibility." After the sexual revolution of the Sixties, the cultural narcissism of the Seventies and the self-indulgent acquisitiveness of the Eighties, Americans are turning inward and upward to fill what Pascal called the God-shaped vacuum that is in every person's soul. This rediscovery of time-honored values has affected our politics. A former vice president, once ridiculed and lampooned for warning America about the dangers of illegitimacy, is heralded by the Atlantic Monthly with a provocative headline: "Dan Quayle was right." Where once it was shock-jock Howard Stern and Roseanne Barr at the top of the best-seller lists, today it is William Bennett and his Book of Virtues. Jim Sasser of Tennessee, who is seeking the post of Democratic leader in the United States Senate, used the first television commercial in his re- election campaign to proclaim his commitment to voluntary prayer in school. Where once a Democratic candidate for president said, "I am tired of politicians preaching to us about family values," that same Democrat, President Bill Clinton, recently gave a speech in New Orleans in which he called for a return to morality and a renewal of faith in God. Americans are seeking once again to build personal and private lives that are enriched by faith. And accompanying that search for spiritual meaning is a new appreciation for an old public wisdom. That wisdom was summed up more than a century and a half ago, when the great French observer Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, "Despotism may be able to do without faith, but democracy cannot." After traversing our young republic, he concluded, "America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, it will cease to be great." This is that quality in the American character that Czech President Vaclav Havel spoke to this past Fourth of July in an address at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, when he said, "[M]an can realize liberty only if he does not forget the One who endowed him with it." Religious values are not a threat to democracy; they are essential to democracy. Faith in God isn't what is wrong with America; it is what is right with America. Yet even as the American people are yearning for a return to their spiritual roots, a strange hostility and scowling intolerance greets those who bring their religious beliefs into the public square. As Yale professor Stephen Carter recently concluded in his book, The Culture of Disbelief, "[W]e have created a political and legal culture that presses the religiously faithful to be other than themselves, to act publicly, and sometimes privately as well, as though their faith does not matter to them." The result is a discomfort and disdain for public expressions of religion that often curdles into intolerance. Consider: In Massachusetts, a United States Senator attacked his opponent not because of his voting record, not because of where he stood on the issues, but because he was once an elder in his church. How ironic, considering who that senator is. In South Carolina, a candidate for attorney general attacked a gubernatorial candidate who happened to be an evangelical Christian by saying that "his only qualifications for office are that he speaks fluently in tongues and handles snakes." A columnist recently referred to politically active evangelicals and Roman Catholics as "the American equivalent of Shiite Muslims," managing in a single breath not only to offend 40 million Americans, but 100 million Muslims around the world. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, the highest ranking medical officer in the Clinton administration, has become a symbol of this administration's insensitivity to religious values and religious people. She has used the bully pulpit of that office to do something that has never been done before, and that is attack someone because of their religious beliefs. She said in a speech in New York City that people of faith were "un-Christian people who are selling out our children in the name of religion." The last time our nation confronted the so-called religion issue, John F. Kennedy addressed the Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960 - exactly 34 years and one month ago today. He said, "if 40 million Americans lost their chance of being president on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the losers in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people." In that same address, Kennedy answered the critics of his Catholicism by asserting that the real issue in that campaign was "not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in." Religious conservatives must do likewise. We believe in a nation that is not officially Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. We believe in a separation between church and state that is complete and inviolable. We believe in a nation in which any person may run for elective office without where they attend church or synagogue ever becoming an issue. We believe that there should be no religious test, implicit or explicit, to serve in any position of public trust. We believe this not simply because the state needs protection from the church, but even more importantly, because the church needs to be protected from the state. The God we serve is not so feeble or insecure as to require the agency of the state to win His converts or accomplish His purposes. Nor do we want to hand over the sacred tablets of our faith to the same government that has given us the Keating Five, the House Post Office scandal, and has not balanced its budget in over a quarter century. We believe in a nation of safe neighborhoods, strong families, schools that work, a smaller government, lower taxes, and citizen legislators that rotate in and out of office and return back to the communities from whence they came, so they can live under the laws they have been passing for everyone else. We believe in an America where all citizens are judged based on the content of their character and not on their gender, race, religious beliefs or ethnic background. Where parents can send their children to the school of their choice -public, private or parochial. Where schools teach children to read, write and master the disciplines of science, geography and history better than their counterparts around the world. Where parents can send their child to a playground near their home without worrying whether that child will come home alive. Where more marriages succeed than fail. Where more children are born in wedlock than outside it. Where children are counted a blessing rather than a burden by both families and government. This is the kind of America we believe in. It is a vision of an expansive future, not an intolerant past. I am reluctant to use military metaphors when describing the pro-family movement. But I have found in the self description of another religious group the embodiment of our hope for America. In the words of its leader, it was "a special army. With no supplies but its sincerity, no uniform but its determination, no arsenal except its faith, no weapon but its conscience. It was an army that would move but not maul. It was an army that would sing but not slay. It was an army that would flank but not falter. It was an army whose allegiance was to God and whose strategy and intelligence were the eloquently simple dictates of conscience." This was how Martin Luther King Jr. described his movement of conscience that forever transformed this nation. We will never know the suffering and the indignity that they knew. But in our own time we reluctantly have entered the political arena based on a sense of right and wrong, motivated by conscience, animated by faith, seeking to impart dignity to a society that has grown increasingly callous and course. We also understand that our vision for America cannot be attained principally through political action. It must be achieved through the way we live our lives privately and publicly. If you want to understand our movement you must not simply cover our political activity or our political organizations. You must see these people doing the things they always have done, unheralded and unproclaimed. Working in homes for unwed mothers, in crisis pregnancy centers, in prison and in jails. Teaching the illiterate how to read in homeless shelters and in inner city schools. In hospitals, caring for the hurting and binding up the wounds of the broken hearted. That is the work of faith. You will find it in our churches, synagogues, and homes one act of goodness at a time. As Emerson once said, "What we are speaks louder than what we say." At times our movement has placed too much emphasis on politics. But we are learning, as some liberals painfully learned when they attempted to build a Great Society through government fiat, that politics is a poor substitute for cultural renewal. Samuel Johnson once said, "How small, of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cure." As I say in my new book, Politically Incorrect, when Christ entered a village, he met the needs of the people first. If they were hungry, he gave them food. If they were thirsty, he gave them drink. If they were blind, he made them to see. If they were lame, he made them walk. If they were deaf, he made them hear. He met needs first and preached later, and that made all the difference. His life must be our model. We must seek not to dominate, but to participate. Our goal must not be power, but protection - of our homes, our families and the liberty we all cherish. We must seek not to rule, but to serve. The spark of our movement can be found in the belief of an essentially religious, conservative people that they can no longer afford not to be involved in politics. Why? Because for 30 years the government has waged war on social pathologies, and the social pathologies are winning. We now live in a nation in which one out of every three children is born out of wedlock. Right now in America there are tens of millions of children who never have known a father. Who may not know anyone who has a father. We now live in a nation in which one out of every two marriages ends in divorce. We have the lowest rate of family formation of any nation in the Western industrialized world. We now live in a nation in which one out of every three pregnancies ends in abortion. Since 1973 there have been more than 30 million children who never will know what it means to be held, to be loved, or to be nurtured. That is an incomprehensible tragedy for all of us. We now live in a nation in which one out of every four high school students walking across a graduation stage cannot read the diploma they were just handed. And in this city, an African-American male under the age of 35 has a higher likelihood of being killed than an American soldier did in Vietnam. A friend of mine teaches kindergarten in Washington, D.C. This past year, six of her students were either shot or witnessed the shootings of family members. One little boy spent month after month in the hospital only to emerge to see another of his family members shot to death in front of him. She had a 5-year-old who stole everything that he could get his hands on. Frequently it was food. She learned that his crack-addicted parents did not feed him when he was younger. He grew up having to steal food. Yet gazing out across this unchartable social chaos, there are still some who insist that the greatest threat to our democracy is if people who believe in God and moral values get involved in politics. I believe that we need more religious people in public life, not less. One final thought. We are a growing movement, and in the long train of history, we are still in relative adolescence. We have much to learn, and we have much to communicate about who we truly are and what we believe. We do not have all the answers, nor do we lay claim to them. It was Edmund Burke who said, "Our patience will achieve more than our force." Ours is a movement of decent, honorable, hard-working men and women who I believe are the backbone and social fabric of this great nation. But even we must acknowledge that some with faith have not always acted out of charity or love. When doctors who perform abortions are slain at the hands of disturbed and demented men claiming to act in the name of God, not only our movement but our entire nation suffers. I agree with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that, "The violence of killing in the name of pro-life makes a mockery of the pro-life cause." When a group of Christian leaders distributes a pamphlet that claims, "To vote for Bill Clinton is to sin against God," they are guilty of bad theology, and that manner of speech is not consistent with an ethic of democratic fairness. When a prominent minister claimed that "God does not hear the prayers of Jews," he raised the ugly specter of anti-Semitism that has no place in our public life. We do not identify with these statements, and we will avail ourselves of every opportunity to say so. At the risk of stating the obvious, let me observe that our movement is no different than any other. We have elements that do not speak for us, nor we for them. And these individuals are no more representative of the mainstream pro-family movement than the terrorism practiced by the Black Panthers exemplified the civil rights struggle. The fact that a few carried their rage to violent excess did not signal the moral bankruptcy of the crusade for a colorblind society. We live in exciting and challenging times. As difficult as they may seem, they do not compare to the dark days of the Civil War, when our nation was nearly torn asunder, when the American experiment in self-government very nearly perished from the face of the Earth, when brother faced brother across a thousand bloody battlefields. At a particularly trying time during that war, President Lincoln received a letter from a clergyman who assured him, "God is on our side." Lincoln replied as only he could. "I know that the Lord is always on the side of right," he said. "But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side." His concern was that he was doing God's work, not the other way around. Lincoln's prayer must be our prayer. To be found on His side, not only in what we say, but in how we say it, not only in public but in private. Not only in our words, but in our deeds. Not only in what we stand against, but in what we stand for. Not only in who we are, but in who we strive to become. If that is our motto and that is our prayer, then with God's help we can heal our land and restore America to greatness. Thank you, and God bless you. *********************************************************************** * * * American Atheists website: http://www.atheists.org * * PO Box 140195 FTP: ftp://ftp.atheists.org * * Austin, TX 78714-0195 * * Voice: (512) 458-1244 Dial-THE-ATHEIST: * * FAX: (512) 467-9525 (512) 458-5731 * * * * Atheist Viewpoint TV: avtv@atheists.org * * Info on American Atheists: info@atheists.org, * * & American Atheist Press include your name and mailing address * * AANEWS -Free subscription: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org * * and put "info aanews" in message body * * * * This text may be freely downloaded, reprinted, and/other * * otherwise redistributed, provided appropriate point of * * origin credit is given to American Atheists. * * * ***********************************************************************

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