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Jewish World Review June 24, 2004/ 5 Tamuz, 5764

Larry Elder

Larry Elder
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Re-writing Reagan's religiosity | Ron Reagan, one of President Reagan's sons, in a recent television interview, insisted that his father only referred to G-d in "proper setting(s)," such as churches or "whatever": "The way he practiced his religion, the way I saw it, anyway, in terms of his presidency and his public life, was that he was unabashed about it in the proper setting, in a church or whatever. He would be quite open about his feelings. But he didn't use it in a way, I mean, it was a very personal thing to him, and it wasn't . . . a political chip that he was going to sort of use all the time, and you see that, I think, now. A lot of politicians will use their faith, let's say, such as it is, to gain political advantage, to appeal to a certain demographic in a narrow sense. . . . I think there's a lot of false piety floating around Washington."

"Whatever"? When one serves as president of the United States, are there any public "whatevers"?

At the Ronald Reagan interment, which I was privileged to attend, Ron criticized politicians who wear "faith on (their) sleeve(s)": "Dad was also a deeply, unabashedly religious man. But he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians wearing his faith on his sleeve to gain political advantage. True, after he was shot and nearly killed early in his presidency, he came to believe that G-d had spared him in order that he might do good. But he accepted that as a responsibility, not a mandate. And there is a profound difference."

Let's go to the videotape.

At the 1984 annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters, Reagan not only spoke about religion, but about Jesus Christ: "He promised there will never be a dark night that does not end," Reagan said. "And by dying for us, Jesus showed how far our love should be ready to go: all the way."

At Kansas State University in 1982, Reagan spoke of the "admonition of the Man from Galilee to do unto others as you would have them do unto you," a line Reagan himself personally inserted into the speech.

In editing his own speeches, Reagan often made such changes, according to his speechwriter Ben Elliott.

"He didn't make a big deal about it," said Elliott. "He would want a change like that and he would just write it in." On one speech draft by Elliott and speechwriter Peggy Noonan, they called Christmas "the day that marks the birth on Earth of the Son of G-d." Reagan added a line: "the birthday of the promised Messiah , the Son of G-d (emphasis added)."

At an ecumenical prayer breakfast in Dallas, Texas, in August 1984, Reagan said, "I believe that faith and religion play a critical role in the political life of our nation — and always has — and that the church — and by that I mean all churches, all denominations — has had a strong influence in the state.

And this has worked to our benefit as a nation. Those who created our country — the Founding Fathers and Mothers — understood that there is a divine order which transcends the human order. They saw the state, in fact, as a form of moral order and felt that the bedrock of moral order is religion. . . .

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Without G-d, democracy will not and cannot long endure. If we ever forget that we're one nation under G-d, then we will be a nation gone under."

During his infamous "evil empire" speech before the National Association of Evangelicals in March 1983, Reagan frequently mentioned prayer, faith and Christianity: " . . . There are a great many G-d-fearing, dedicated, noble men and women in public life, present company included. . . . The basis of the ideas of those ideals and principles (that brought us into the public arena) is a commitment to freedom and personal liberty that, itself, is grounded in the much deeper realization that freedom prospers only where the blessings of G-d are avidly sought and humbly accepted."

Reagan then spoke of the country's Judeo-Christian traditions, and attacked government "attempts to water down traditional values and even abrogate the original terms of American democracy. Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under G-d is acknowledged."

About the "evil empire," Reagan proposed that his administration would "negotiate real and verifiable reductions in the world's nuclear arsenals, and one day, with G-d's help, their total elimination."

Finally, Reagan closed his speech with a quote from Isaiah: "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increased strength . . . But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary . . . "

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JWR contributor Larry Elder is the author of, most recently, "Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies and the Special Interests That Divide America." (Proceeds from sales help fund JWR) Let him know what you think of his column by clicking here.

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