Ronald Reagan delivers his “Evil Empire” speech

Speaker: Ronald Reagan
Delivered On: 3/8/1983
Place: Orlando, FL
Subject: National Association of Evangelicals
Audio/Video Available:

Description: President Reagan gave this speech on March 8, 1983, to the National Association
of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida. It became known as the “Evil Empire” speech
because Reagan described communism as “the focus of evil in the modern world.”

The National Association of Evangelical’s community, from coast to coast, in our
great land, deeply appreciates and values his love for the truth of the Bible, and
his commitment to it’s great moral values. Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of
the United States, Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you very much, and Reverend
Clergy Ahl, Senator Hawkins, distinguished members of the Florida Congressional
Delegation and all of you. I can’t tell you how you have warmed my heart with your
welcome. I am delighted to be here today. Those of you in the National Association
of Evangelicals are known for your spiritual and humanitarian work. And I would
be especially remiss if I didn’t discharge right now one personal debt of gratitude.
Thank you for your prayers. Nancy and I have felt their presence many times in many
ways. Believe me, for us they have made all the difference.

The other day in the East Room of the White House, at a meeting there, someone asked
me whether I was aware of all the people out there that are praying for the President.
And I had to say that, yes I am. I felt it and believe intersessionary prayer. But,
I couldn’t help but say to that questioner after he asked the question that, or
at least say to him, that sometimes when he was praying he got a busy signal, it
was just me, in there ahead of him. I think I understand how Abraham Lincoln felt
when he said “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction
that I have no where else to go.” From the joy and the good feeling of this conference
I go to a political reception.

Now, I don’t know why, but that bit of scheduling reminds me of a story, which I
will share with you. An Evangelical minister and a politician arrived at heaven’s
gate one day together. St. Peter, after doing all the necessary formalities, took
them in hand to show them where their quarters would be. He took them into a small
single room with a bed, a chair and a table, and said this is for the clergyman
and the politician was a little worried about what might be in store for him. He
couldn’t believe it then when St. Peter stopped in front of a beautiful mansion
with lovely grounds, many servants and told him that these would be his quarters.
He couldn’t help but ask, but wait, how is it that I get this mansion, while that
good and holy man only gets a single room. St. Peter said, “You have to understand
how things are up here. We have got thousands and thousands of clergy. You’re the
first politician who ever made it.”

But I don’t want to contribute to a stereotype, so I tell you that there are a great
many, God fearing, dedicated, noble men and women in public life. Present company
included. And, yes, we need your help to keep us ever mindful of the ideas and the
principles that brought us into the public arena in the first place. The basis of
those ideals and principles is a commitment to freedom, personal liberty and itself
is grounded in the much deeper realization that freedom prospers only where the
blessings of God are avidly sought and humbly accepted.

The American experiment in democracy rests on this insight. It’s discovery was the
great triumph of our founding fathers, voiced by William Penn, when he said, “If
we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.” Exclaiming the
inalienable rights of men, Jefferson said, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty
at the same time.” It was George Washington who said “Of all the dispositions, and
havoc that lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable
supports.” And finally, that shrewdest of all observers of American democracy, Alexis
de Tocqueville put it eloquently, after he had gone on a search for the secret of
America’s greatness and genius and he said “Not until I went into the churches of
America, and heard her pulpits a flame with righteousness, did I understand the
greatness and genius of America. America is good and if America ever ceases to be
good, America will cease to be great.”

I am pleased to be here today with you who are keeping America great by keeping
her good. Only through your work and prayers and those of millions of others, can
we hope to survive this perilous century and keep alive this experiment in liberty,
this last best hope of man. I want you to know that this administration is motivated
by a political philosophy. It sees the greatness of America in you, her people and
in your families, churches, neighborhoods, communities, the institutions that foster
and nourish values, like concern for others and respect for the rule of law, under

Now, I don’t have to tell you that this puts us in opposition to, or at least out
of step with, a prevailing attitude of many, who have turned to a modern day secularism.
Discarding the tried and time tested values upon which our very civilization is
based. No matter how well intentioned, their value system is radically different
from that of most Americans. While they proclaim that they are freeing us from superstitions
of the past, they have taken upon themselves the job of superintending us by government
rule and regulation. Sometimes, their voices are louder than ours, but they are
not yet a majority. An example of that vocal superiority is evident in the controversy
now going on in Washington. Since I have been involved, I have been waiting to hear
from the parents of young American. How far are they willing to go in giving to
government their prerogatives as parents.

Let me state the case as simply and briefly as I can. An organization of citizens,
sincerely motivated, deeply concerned about the increase in illegitimate births
and abortions involving girls well below the age of consent. Sometime ago, established
nationwide, a network of clinics to offer help to these girls and hopefully alleviate
this situation. Now again let me say, that I do not fault their intent. However
in their well intentioned effort, these clinics, have decided to provide advise
and birth control drugs and devices to under age girls without the knowledge of
their parents. For some years now, the federal government has helped with funds
to subsidizing these clinics. In providing for this, the Congress decreed that every
effort would be made to maximize parental participation. Nevertheless, the drugs
and devices are prescribed without getting parental consent or giving notification
after they have done so. Girls termed sexually active, and that has replaced the
word promiscuous, are given this help in order to prevent illegitimate births or
abortions. Well, we have ordered clinics receiving federal funds to notify the parents
that such help has been given.

One of the nations leading newspapers has created the term ‘squeal rule’ in editorializing
against us for doing this and we are being criticized for violating the privacy
of young people. A judge has recently granted an injunction against an enforcement
of our rule. I’ve watched TV panel shows discuss this issue, seen columnists pontificating
on our error. But no one seems to mention morality as playing a part in the subject
of sex. Is all of Judeo-Christian tradition wrong? Are we to believe that something
so sacred can be looked upon as a purely physical thing with no potential for emotional
and psychological harm? And, isn’t it the parents’ right to give council and advise
to keep their children from making mistakes that may affect their entire lives?
Many of us in government, would like to know what parents think about this intrusion
in their family by government. We are going to fight in the courts, the rights of
parents and the rights of family take precedence over those Washington based bureaucrats
and social engineers.

The fight against parental notification, is really only one example of many attempts
to water down traditional values and even aggravate the original terms of American
democracy. Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God
is acknowledged. 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.

The evidence of this permeates on our history and on our government. The Declaration
of Independence mentions the Supreme Being, no less than, 4 times. In God We Trust
is engraved on our coins. The Supreme Court opens it’s proceedings with a religious
invocation, and the members of Congress open their sessions with a prayer. I just
happen to believe that school children of the United States are entitled to the
same privileges as the Supreme Court justices.

Last year, I sent the Congress a constitutional amendment to restore prayer to public
schools. Already this session there was growing bi-partisan support for the amendment
and I am calling on the Congress to act speedily to pass it, to let our children
pray. Perhaps some of you, [interruption in video 00:13:47] …being held during
the students own time. The First Amendment never intended to require government
to discriminate against religious speech.

Senators Denton and Hatfield have proposed legislation in the Congress on the whole
question of prohibiting discrimination against religious forms of student speech.
Such legislation could go far to restore freedom of religious speech for public
school students. I hope that Congress considers these bills quickly and with your
help, I think it’s possible, we could also get the constitutional amendment through
the Congress this year. More than a decade ago, a Supreme Court decision, literally
wiped off the books of 50 states, statutes protecting the rights of unborn children.
Abortion on demand now takes the lives of up to 1 & 1/2 million unborn children
a year. Human life legislation ending this tragedy will someday pass the Congress
and you and I must never rest until it does. Unless, and until it can be proven,
that the unborn child is NOT a living entity, then it’s right to life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness must be protected.

You may remember that when abortion on demand began, many, and indeed I’m sure many
of you, warned that the practice would lead to a decline in respect for human life.
That the philosophical premises as used to justify abortion on demand would ultimately
be used to justify other attacks on human life; infanticide or mercy killing. Tragically
enough, those warning proved all too true. Only last year, a court permitted the
death by starvation of a handicapped infant. I have directed the Health and Human
Services Department to make clear to every health care facility in the United States
that the Rehabilitation Act or 1973, protects ALL handicapped persons against discrimination
based on handicaps, including infants.

We have taken the further step of requiring that each and every recipient of federal
funds, who provides health care services to infants, must post and keep posted in
a conspicuous place, a notice stating that discriminatory failure to feed and care
for handicapped infants in this facility is prohibited by federal law. It also lists
a 24 hour toll-free number so that nurses and others may report violations in time
to save the infants life.

In addition, recent legislation introduced in the Congress by Representative Henry
Hyde of Illinois not only increases restrictions on publicly financed abortions,
it also addresses this whole problem of infanticide. I urge the Congress to begin
hearings and to adopt legislation, that will protect the right of life to all children,
including the disabled or handicapped. Now, I’m sure that you must get discouraged
at times, but, you have do better than you know perhaps. There is a great spiritual
awakening in America.

A renewal of the traditional values that have been the bedrock of America’s goodness
and greatness. One recent survey by a Washington based research council, concluded
that Americans were far more religious than the people of other nations. 95% of
those surveyed expressed a belief in God and a huge majority believed the 10 Commandments
had real meaning in their lives. Another study has found that an overwhelming majority
of Americans disapprove of adultery, teenage sex, pornography, abortion and hard
drugs. This same study showed a deep reverence for the importance of family ties
and religious belief.

I think the items we discussed here today, must be a key part of the nation’s political
agenda. For the first time, the Congress has openly and seriously debating and dealing
with the prayer and abortion issues. That is enormous progress right there! I repeat,
America is in the midst of a spiritual awakening and a moral renewal. With your
biblical keynote, I say today, yes, let justice roll on like a river, righteousness
like a never failing stream.

Obviously, much of this new political and social consensus I’ve talked about, is
based on a positive view of American history. One that takes pride in our country’s
accomplishments and record. But, we must never forget, that, no government schemes
are going to perfect man. We know that living in this world means dealing with what
philosophers would call the Phenomenology of evil or as theologians would put it,
the doctrine of sin. There is sin and evil in the world and we are enjoined by scripture
and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might. Our nation, too, has a legacy
of evil with which it must deal. The glory of this land has been it’s capacity for
transcending the moral evils of our past. For example, the long struggle of minority
citizens for equal rights. Once a source of disunity and civil war is now a point
of pride for all Americans. We must never go back. There is no room for racism,
antisemitism or other forms of ethnic and racial hatred in this country.

I know that you have been horrified, as have I, by the resurgence of some hate groups
preaching bigotry and prejudice. Use the mighty voice of your pulpits and the powerful
standing of your churches to denounce and isolate these hate groups in our midst.
The commandment given us is clear and simple. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
But whatever sad episodes exist is our past, any objective observer must hold a
positive view of American history. A history that has been the story of hopes fulfilled
and dreams made into reality. Especially in this century, America has kept a light,
the torch of freedom. But not just for ourselves, but for millions of others around
the world.

This brings me to my final point today. During my first press conference as President,
in answer to a direct question, I pointed out that as good Marxists Leninist, the
Soviet leaders have openly and publicly declared that the only morality that they
recognize is that which will further their cause, which is world revolution. I think
I should point out that I was only quoting Lennon, their guiding spirit who said
in 1920, that they repudiate all morality that proceeds from supernatural ideas,
that’s their name for religion, where outside class conceptions. Morality is in
entirely subordinate to the interest of class war and everything is moral that is
necessary for the annihilation of the old exploiting social order and for uniting
the proletariat. I think the refusal of many influential people to accept this elementary
fact of Soviet doctrine, illustrates a historical reluctance to see totalitarian
powers for what they are. We saw this phenomenon in the 1930s. We see it too often
today. This doesn’t mean that we should isolate ourselves and refuse to seek an
understanding with them. I intend to do everything I can to persuade them of our
peaceful intent, to remind them that it was the west, that refused to use it’s nuclear
monopoly in the 40s and 50s for territorial gain, and which now proposes a 50% cut
in strategic ballistic missiles and the elimination of an entire class of land based
intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

At the same time, however, they must be made to understand, we will never compromise
our principles and standards. We will never give away our freedom. We will never
abandon our belief in God. We will never stop searching for a genuine peace. But
we can assure, none of these things America stands for, through the so-called nuclear
freeze solutions proposed by some. The truth is that a freeze now would be a very
dangerous fraud, for that is merely the illusion of peace. The reality is that we
must find peace through strength.

I would agree to a freeze if only we could freeze the Soviet’s global desires. A
freeze at current levels of weapons would remove any incentive for the Soviets to
negotiate seriously in Geneva and virtually end our chances to achieve the major
arm reductions which we have proposed. Instead, they would achieve their objectives
through the freeze. A freeze would reward the Soviet Union for it’s enormous and
unparallelled military build-up. It would prevent the essential and long-overdue
modernization of United States and allied defenses and would leave our aging forces
increasingly vulnerable. And, an honest freeze, would require extensive prior negotiations
on the systems and numbers to be limited and on the measures to ensure effective
verification and compliance, and the kind of a freeze that has been suggested would
be virtually impossible to verify. Such a major effort would divert us completely
from our current negotiations on achieving substantial reductions.

A number of years ago, I heard a young father, a very prominent young man in the
entertainment world addressing a tremendous gathering in California. It was during
the time of the Cold War and communism and our own way of life were very much on
people’s minds and he was speaking to that subject. And, suddenly though I heard
him saying, “I love my little girls more than anything.” And I said to myself, oh
no, don’t, you can’t don’t say that. But I had underestimated him. He went on, “I
would rather see my little girls die now, still believing in God, than have them
grow up under communism and one day die no longer believing in God. There were thousands
of young people in that audience. They came to their feet with shouts of joy. They
had instantly recognized the profound truth in what he had said with regard to the
physical and the soul and what was truly important. Let us pray for the salvation
of all those that live in that totalitarian darkness. Pray they will discover the
joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the
supremacy of the state, declare it’s omnipotence over individual man and predict
it’s eventual dominance of all peoples on the earth. They are the focus of evil
in the modern world.

It was C.S. Lewis, who in his unforgettable ‘screw tape letters’ wrote, “The greatest
evil is not done now, in those sorted dens of crime that Dickens loved to paint.
It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps, in those we see it’s
final result, but it is conceived and ordered, moved, seconded, carried, minuted
in clear carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars
and cut finger nails and smooth shaven cheeks who do need to raise their voice.
For because these quiet men do not raise their voices, because they sometimes speak
in soothing tones of brotherhood and peace. Because like other dictators before
them, they are always making their final territorial demand. Some would have us
accept them at their word, and accommodate ourselves to their aggressive impulses.
But if history teaches anything, it teaches that simple minded appeasement, or wishful
thinking about our adversaries is folly. It means the betrayal of our past, the
squandering of our freedom. So I urge you to speak out against those who would place
the United States in a position of military and moral inferiority. I have always
believed that ‘old screw-tape’ reserved his best efforts for those of you in the
church. So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware
the temptations of pride, the temptation of blithely, declaring yourselves above
it all, and label both sides equally at fault. To ignore the facts of history and
the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant
misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and
wrong, and good and evil.

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