“Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant,
and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.”
and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.”
Ronald Reagan — March 8, 1983
One of America’s most deeply read and thoughtful presidents, Ronald Wilson Reagan, was a leading champion for religious liberty. As the nation commemorates his 105th birthday this weekend, those who love religious liberty should remember this aspect of his heritage—and honor his memory by seeking to preserve the religious freedom for which he fought.
REAGAN’S SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
Evidence indicates that Reagan was one of America’s most spiritually grounded presidents. Trained early in life by his evangelical Christian mother, his speeches, journals and personal communications suggest that he never forgot the lessons she taught him.
Reagan prominently laced speeches on domestic and foreign policy with references to the practical implications of doctrines such as sin and the fall (part of his case for limited government, law and order, and confronting evil in regimes like the Soviet Union), and the creation and dignity of every human being in image of God (part of his case for free enterprise and against abortion).
After renowned historian Douglas Brinkley spent six months meticulously examining and editing the private diaries Reagan kept while president, he noted:
In these writings Ronald Reagan’s true nature is revealed…Like his marriage to Nancy, his strong relationship with God was of paramount importance in Reagan’s life. Consistently, he thanks God for allowing him to be physically fit and for sparing his life from [attempted assassin John Hinckley’s] bullet spray, after which he recalls lying on a bed in the emergency room: “I focused on that tiled ceiling and prayed. But I realized I couldn’t ask for God’s help while at the same time I felt hatred for the mixed-up young man who had shot me…I began to pray for his soul and that he would find his way back to the fold.”
RESURRECTION, JESUS AND PRAYER
In these diaries, one also finds Reagan:
· Taking time to research evidence for the resurrection of Christ and drawing confidence from what he learned.
· Praying through the night for good weather for a visit from the prime minister of India, whom Reagan was trying to draw away from the influence of the Soviet Union (“Today was supposed to be a rainy one & I’ve been praying since last night.”) The rain held off until just after an important outdoor ceremony that got the meeting off to a good start.
These are two of many recorded instances of Ronald Reagan exhibiting an uncommon personal pursuit of God, and understanding the life-changing influence of faith.
REAGAN: RELIGIOUS LIBERTY VITAL TO ALL LIBERTY
Because Reagan personally understood religion, Reagan the statesman firmly grasped its value to a free society. And that made him a fierce opponent of threats to religious liberty.
“Without God,” he said, “there is no virtue, because there’s no prompting of the conscience. Without God, we’re mired in the material, that flat world that tells us only what the senses perceive. Without God, there is a coarsening of the society. And without God, democracy will not and cannot long endure.”
For this reason, Reagan rebutted attacks on religious values as attempts to “abrogate the original terms of American democracy.”
Those “terms” were repeatedly articulated by America’s Founding Fathers, like John Adams, who stated in 1798,
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
(Adams’ words have been proven true. Multiple research studies show that individuals who regularly attend religious services are more likely to adhere to laws and be good citizens.)
To promote religious freedom in America, Reagan:
· Supported both judicial and legislative action to restore prayer and other religious activity to public schools, including the 1984 Equal Access Act.
· Left a federal judiciary populated with judges who made key rulings in favor of religious freedom.
· Accelerated the careers of countless champions of religious liberty and freedom through his Justice Department.
Most of all, Reagan attacked the widespread misinterpretation of “separation of church and state,” saying in 1983,
When our Founding Fathers passed the First Amendment, they sought to protect churches from government interference. They never intended to construct a wall of hostility between government and the concept of religious belief itself.
Indeed, Reagan saw religious freedom as crucial to the moral stability necessary for a society to afford less government and enjoy more political and economic freedom.
“FREE TO SPEAK OF AND ACT ON THEIR BELIEF”
Reagan stated in 1984,
We establish no religion in this country, nor will we ever. We command no worship. We mandate no belief. But we poison our society when we remove its theological underpinnings. We court corruption when we leave it bereft of belief. All are free to believe or not believe; all are free to practice a faith or not. But those who believe must be free to speak of and act on their belief, to apply moral teaching to public questions.
Today, contrary to the view of Ronald Reagan, powerful forces in all branches of government and in the culture are questioning the value of religious liberty.
Some float the idea that religious freedom means limiting religious expression to the walls of one’s home or house of worship—and even some houses of worship are facing government interference and legal retribution for nothing more than operating according to their beliefs.
If Americans aren’t free to express their beliefs in public, all their freedoms are in danger.
But the fight is just beginning. Champions of religious freedom—like Liberty Institute—are battling in courts, state legislatures, the U.S. Congress, and the media—and they still have the law and influential court decisions on their side.
As the nation’s largest legal organization solely dedicated to protecting religious freedom for all Americans, Liberty Institute has a victory rate of over 90 percent.
You can help Liberty Institute win even more victories—and honor religious liberty champion Ronald Reagan, by supporting our efforts with your prayers and financial support.
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Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.