Reagan Speech to Temple Hillel and Community Leaders in Valley Stream
(October 26, 1984)
Rabbi Friedman, Senator D'Amato, members of Temple Hillel, and to all of you, a very, very warm thank you for this wonderful greeting. It is a great honor for me to be here with you today.
I've covered a bit of territory since this campaign began. What's heartened me most is the new spirit that I have found around this country, a spirit of optimism and confidence, of pride and patriotism, that has been brought forth by a great American renewal.
America's greatest gift has always been freedom and equality of opportunity -- the idea that no matter who you are, no matter where you came from, you can climb as high as your own God-given talents will take you. But a few years ago we were being told that this vision was no more, that America was in decline, and all of us had to lower our expectations.
I think you remember the disasters that defeatist spirit led to: the first back-to-back years of double-digit inflation since World War I, a 21\1/2\-percent prime interest rate, record taxation, declining growth, savings, investment, income, and confidence in our future -- not to mention growing problems of crime and drugs and in education. Overseas, we had lost the respect of friends and foe alike. Our determination had grown weak, undermining commitments to even our closest friends like Israel. We talked and acted like a nation in decline, and the world believed us.
Well, in 1981 the American people set out on an entirely new course. And working together, we have cast aside the pessimism, along with high inflation, stagnation, and weakness, in a wonderful rebirth of freedom, prosperity, and hope. And today we're seeing not humiliation and defeatism, but pride in ourselves, in our accomplishments, and in our country.
From New York Harbor to San Diego Bay, a strong economic expansion with low inflation is leading the rest of the world into recovery. America is back. America is on its feet. And America is back on the map. But we cannot and we will not rest until every American who wants a job can find a job.
A nation's greatness is measured not just by its gross national product or military power, but by the strength of its devotion to the principles and values that bind its people and define their character. Our civil rights: on that subject, we are enforcing the law with new determination. Since we took office, the Justice Department has filed more criminal charges on civil rights violations, brought more violators to trial, and achieved more civil rights convictions than any one before us. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: As President, I will continue to enforce civil rights to the fullest extent of the law.
That's why I have appointed to the Civil Rights Commission people like Commissioners Clarence Pendleton and Morris Abram and Staff Director Linda Chavez. They recognize that you cannot cure discrimination with more discrimination. I'm proud that they're serving on the Commission, and I intend to keep them there. And as long as I'm President, we'll have a Justice Department which argues for the rights of individuals to be treated as individuals, whether the case involves hiring, promotions, layoffs, or any other matter subject to the law.
And we're also remembering the guiding light of our Judeo-Christian tradition. All of us here today are descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, sons and daughters of the same God. I believe we are bound by faith in our God, by our love for family and neighborhood, by our deep desire for a more peaceful world, and by our commitment to protect the freedom which is our legacy as Americans. These values have given a renewed sense of worth to our lives. They are infusing America with confidence and optimism that many thought we had lost.
You know, when you talk about human life, I think that means seeing that the immeasurable pain of the Holocaust is never dehumanized, seeing that its meaning is never lost on this generation or any future generation, and, yes, seeing that those who take our place understand: never again.
Now, perhaps that message should again be impressed on those who question why we went on a peacekeeping mission to Lebanon. Indeed, anyone who remembers the lesson of the Holocaust must understand that we have a fundamental moral obligation to assure: never again.
To help preserve that lesson for future generations, I'm satisfied that our General Services Administration has approved the use of the old Customs House by the New York City Holocaust Memorial Commission as a means of commemorating the Holocaust. And it will be a museum of the Jewish people in the Diaspora. It will serve to remind our children and our children's children the tragic consequences of bigotry and intolerance.
We in the United States, above all, must remember that lesson, for we were founded as a nation of openness to people of all beliefs. And so we must remain. Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism. We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief.
At the same time that our Constitution prohibits state establishment of religion, it protects the free exercise of all religions. And walking this fine line requires government to be strictly neutral. And government should not make it more difficult for Christians, Jews, Muslims, or other believing people to practice their faith. And that's why, when the Connecticut Supreme Court struck down a statute -- and you may not have heard about this; it was a statute protecting employees who observed the Sabbath. Well, our administration is now urging the United States Supreme Court to overturn the Connecticut Court decision. This is what I mean by freedom of religion, and that's what we feel the Constitution intends.
And there's something else. The ideals of our country leave no room whatsoever for intolerance, for anti-Semitism, or for bigotry of any kind -- none. In Dallas, we acted on this conviction. We passed a resolution concerning anti-Semitism and disassociating the Republic[an] Party from all people and groups who practice bigotry in any form. But in San Francisco this year, the Democratic Party couldn't find the moral courage or leadership to pass a similar resolution. And, forgive me, but I think they owe you an explanation. [Applause]
What has happened to them? Why, after the issue became so prominent during the primaries, did the Democratic leadership alk away from their convention without a resolution condemning this insidious cancer? Why didn't they turn their backs on special interests and stand shoulder to shoulder with us in support of tolerance and in unequivocal opposition to prejudice and bigotry?
We must never remain silent in the face of bigotry. We must condemn those who seek to divide us. In all quarters and at all times, we must teach tolerance and denounce racism, anti-Semitism, and all ethnic or religious bigotry wherever they exist as unacceptable evils. We have no place for haters in America -- none, whatsoever.
And let's not kid ourselves, the so-called anti-Zionists that we hear in the United Nations is just another mask in some quarters for vicious anti-Semitism. And that's something the United States will not tolerate wherever it is, no matter how subtle it may be.
We have a tremendous watchdog on this, Jeane Kirkpatrick. She is one very forceful and determined woman. And she has defended Israel with persistence and courage, and America is very proud of Jeane Kirkpatrick. Contrast her performance with that sad moment on March 1st, 1980, when the American delegate to the United Nations actually voted in favor of a resolution that repeatedly condemned Israel. And why did my opponent remain silent? I ask you again, what has happened to the party of Harry Truman and Scoop Jackson?
I was once a member of that party, and for a great part of my life, myself. And I don't believe that what we've seen and what I've been talking about is true of the millions of rank-and-file, patriotic Americans; it is only true of an element of leadership that somehow seems to have lacked the courage to stand for what is right.
I'd like to remind you of an important, indeed, a key position of the United States. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick has my explicit instructions that if Israel is ever forced to walk out of the United Nations, the United States and Israel will walk out together.
I think we've come quite a long way together, at home and abroad. Gone are the days when we abandoned principle and common sense. Gone are the days when we meekly tolerated obvious threats to peace and security. I can tell you today from my heart, America is prepared for peace. And because we're stronger than before, because we've regained our respect, and because our allies and friends know once again that we can be counted on, we're in a position to secure a future of peace -- not peace at any price, but a true, meaningful, lasting peace supported by freedom and human dignity.
Now, make no mistake, if ever we were to heed those who would cripple America's defense-building program, we would undermine our own security and the security of our closest friends, like Israel. And as long as I'm President, that's not going to happen. Israel and the United States are bound together by the ties of family, friendship, shared ideals, and mutual interests. We're allies in the defense of freedom in the Middle East. And I'm proud to say, borrowing Prime Minister Peres' words of 2 weeks ago, relations between the United States and Israel ``have reached a new level of harmony and understanding.''
In partnership, Israel and the United States will continue to work toward a common vision of peace, security, and economic well-being. Our friendship is closer and stronger today, yes, than ever before. And we intend to keep it that way.
Let me leave you with one final thought. I know that many of you here today have your political roots in the Democratic Party. And I just want to say to all of you, to repeat what I said a moment ago, that I was a Democrat most of my life, and I know what it's like when you find yourself unable to support the decisions of the leadership of that party. But to you and to the millions of rank-and-file Democrats who love America and want a better life for your children, who share our determination to build a stronger America at home and abroad, I can only say: Come walk with us down this new path of hope and opportunity, and in a bipartisan way, we will keep this nation strong and free.
The spiritual values which the Jewish community represent are now being seen by the American public on a television series, ``Heritage, Civilization, And The Jews.'' These are values we want and need in the Republican Party. We stand with you, working for an America that works for everyone, an America strong and successful, inspired and united for opportunity. We stand with you, committed and determined to help you protect the traditions and ethics that you hold dear. And we stand with you in your belief in the inviolability of the first amendment.
We stand with you in condemning any and all who preach or countenance bigotry, hatred, or anti-Semitism. And we stand with you in supporting the rights of Soviet Jewry and other believers. We will never be silent in the fight for human rights. We stand with you in support of our friend and democratic ally in the Middle East, the State of Israel. And together, we can build an even better future for our children and for America. And together, we will.
The other day I said something to a group of students in the White House that I will repeat to you: We are free. We are the land of the free, because we are the home of the brave.
Thank you, and God bless you all, and lechayim.
Source: Remarks by President Reagan to Temple Hillel and Community Leaders in Valley Stream, New York, Public Papers of the Presidents, Ronald Reagan, 1982