In the Public Arena

RONALD REAGAN:

CHAMPION OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

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“Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant,
and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.” 

Ronald Reagan — March 8, 1983


Ronald Wilson Reagan was one of America’s most deeply read and thoughtful presidents, and one of its most spiritually grounded. Trained early in life by his evangelical Christian mother, he never forgot the lessons she taught him.  

But beyond childhood exposure to Christian faith, Reagan drank deeply from the wells of biblical teaching and personal Bible study throughout the long and winding road of his life. And in the Oval Office he became a history-changing champion of religious liberty.

So on the 104th anniversary of his birth, 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

In fact, most Americans—even most conservatives—don’t realize how Ronald Reagan’s Christianity was a core part of his entire philosophy of government, as well as something he lived personally.  His spirituality wasn’t just superficial, nor for political show, nor a deep yet “private compartment” of his life.  

Reagan viewed all of life, including public life, through a spiritual lens, lacing 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

Keep in mind, witnesses said this prayer occurred when Reagan’s lungs had been filling with his own blood, he was struggling to breathe, and his very survival was in question. Yet lying near death, he prayed for the man who tried to kill him

In these diaries, you also find 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 three 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 he understood religion, Reagan the statesman understood 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.”  

  • He supported both judicial and legislative action to restore prayer and other religious activity to public schools, including the 1984 Equal Access Act. 
  • He left a federal judiciary populated with Reagan judges who, for the most part, made key rulings in favor of religious freedom.  
  • And his Justice Department accelerated the careers of countless champions of religious liberty and freedom.

Most of all, Reagan attacked the liberal misinterpretation of “separation of church and state,” saying, “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”

“We establish no religion in this country, nor will we ever,” Reagan stated in 1984. “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. 

Sexual revolutionaries contend that “sexual liberty” trumps religious liberty. Trendy voices float the idea that religious freedom means freedom to believe in God if you don’t talk about it outside your home or church—and even church is not off-limits for some.

But the fight is just beginning. The ideological heirs of Ronald Reagan are battling back in courts, legislatures, and Congress—and they still have the law and influential court decisions on their side.  

Liberty Institute, for example, the largest legal organization solely dedicated to defending religious liberty in America has more than a 90 percent win rate. And somewhere in heaven, Ronald Reagan is cheering them on.

 

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