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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Ñ 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
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
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
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
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.
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