April 16, 1998

April 16, 1998 | Lecture on

Freedom and Responsibility: The Role Values Play in Shaping Public Policy

This Lecture was held at the Heritage Foundation on March 11, 1998.

It's a pleasure for me to be here. I want to talk a little bit about the basic character of the American people: Who we are; who we have been; and how that ought to shape public policy.

I find myself reminiscing a little bit about the days when I was a professor, the early days of the movement that's sort of overtaken our country, where so many of what I believe to be the dilemmas of the modern university first presented themselves--multiculturalism and some of these phenomena. I was at a faculty meeting. All the professors were excited about the new things we were going to try, the latest new theories and so forth. I remember feeling compelled to rise and say, "Well, speaking for myself, I'm searching for some old ways of doing things." I found very quickly I didn't fit in very well.

But I've also found as I traveled around the country these past few months that I am sharing a sense in common with many Americans. I think that there is objective data that we get from polling and objective observations that we get from watching the American people. It suggests that the nation is searching for some old ways of doing things, searching for some values that sustain other generations better than they believe the values that are guiding life in America are sustaining us today.

For example, while we are disconcerted so often about modern TV programming, all of a sudden we find Touched by An Angel and Promised Land riding to the top of the charts of popularity. People are finding something in this programming that they're obviously searching for that they haven't seen before. We find a spiritual search going on in America. In Texas, every time I see an empty storefront on one day, I come back a week later and I find that a bunch of young people have gone in there and put a church in place. And there seems to be a greater longing for some of these values.

We used to do a better job in America in our ordinary business of life, as Alfred Marshall would say, of understanding the bright lines between what is right and what is wrong, and seeing the need for and benefit of being on the side of what's right. We conducted ourselves in both our personal and our public lives along those lines. And I tried to digest all of this. I think that a very fundamental thing has crept its way into public policy. Where we used to understand that we could have freedom--which we understood as a very personal matter--and personal liberties, we could have that freedom only if we purchased it with the exercise of personal responsibility. Frankly, I would suggest that a very good part of parenting is teaching young people that they can be free if they exercise their responsibilities. For example, you can go to the movies if you clean your room. You can make the team if you keep up your grades. You can have the keys to the car if you behave yourself. First demonstrate the responsibility, then the freedom will follow.

It seems, though, that there is a sense in this country that I translate in this way: "Trust me, I'm from the government and I can make you free from responsibility." And I think it has affected public policy. This reflects a cultural change, from which I think we're rebounding only today, that has not been healthy.

I like to point out that it is my job to represent 550,000 good Texas folks. And it's my job to represent the best of who they are. I think public policy all too often has been governed by representations of the worst of the character traits of people: Of their fears, their anxieties, sometimes even their jealousies and their envies. And I think we now need to turn public policy in a direction that says we have been given--each and every one of us, by our Creator, as He created us in His image--the wonderful gift of freedom. This gift of freedom was dishonored by this country when it gathered itself around a concept of government that said, "You can have a just authority to govern only insofar as you accept that as a gift from the government." The Lord says, "I hope the people will know and obey my ways so things will go well with them." He doesn't add, "So they'll know how I'm the boss here." That's not His objective. His objective is people's happiness.

I'm going to suggest that's the way it is with us as parents. I teach my children the things that will keep them safe and happy in their lives, and I hope they learn these lessons so things will go well with them.

I laugh a little bit about where we are today. This is not just coming from government. I think government is a reflection of a culture. It seems to me that we've become short-sighted, to a great extent, and too-self directed, or we tend to believe that our goals in life should be about ourselves and the now. And I always laugh. Consider something like this: A policymaker comes along and tells you, "Trust me, I'm from the government and, if you'll put your faith in me, I'll make it possible for you to fulfill your American dream." You reply, "What is my dream?" You'll see that what I see all too often is a projection. Of course, your dream is about you. Everyone knows the great American dream is about owning your own home. Well, I raised five children. I got them all through college, and they're all on their own hoof now. I'll tell you that I know for a fact that the great American dream is not to own your own home. The great American dream is to get your kids out of it.

I look at real people doing what they know to be the most real, serious things in their lives, and I see what matters is what they invest in their children: Their hopes, their dreams, their time, their effort, their discipline, and their prayers. I think that's what I should represent. And as I do that, I want to try to get us from where we have been drifting as a nation to where we ought to go. We need to go back to a nation that, without blushing, without fear of ridicule or criticism by people who are "sophisticated" and "well-educated," can talk in very fundamental terms about such things as honor and duty, responsibility, loyalty, and faith. We need to speak very candidly about patriotism and citizenship. And I think that, to a large extent, we're guided by that. And I'm going to talk about that a little bit. So I think I take both a long-run and a short-term approach to the framework. You hear Speaker Gingrich talk about goals for a generation, the circumstances that we'll define. I think there's got to be some evidence to you and me that we are making progress along the way, that things are happening to take us in this direction. I think we get too clinical in how we talk about public policy, so I will talk in these other terms a little bit.

For example, we talk about another tax cut this year, and Representative Billy Tauzin (R-LA) and I are out talking about changing the whole tax code. And it's too easy to think of that in terms of money. But I think of it in terms of a family having the resources that it comes by to exercise its own responsibilities, through its own discretion, to care for and express the nurturing of their own children in their own way with their own values and their own sense. I think about it as being a tax code that knows the goodness of the American people and does honor to that by treating them with a simplicity, a decency, an honesty, and a straightforwardness that makes it possible for everyone to know exactly what the tax is. I think about a tax code that is fair in that it has the decency to treat everyone with an equal amount of respect, so that we're all treated the same. A tax code in which the government gives up its impulses of power and control and moves away from the game of income redistribution and social engineering. And a tax code that honors the goodness in the American people. And as we cut taxes along the way, we hopefully would cut them in such a way that would reflect on that again.

I don't think it's just an accident that the marriage penalty, or eliminating the marriage penalty as a concept of tax reduction, has such currency with the American people. They see it as an endorsement of a morality that it is better to have a tax code that encourages two people to live together in wedlock instead of rewarding them for doing otherwise. And that dimension of the argument is expressed to me every time I go across this country and people talk about that.

I talk, for example, very strongly about school choice in the District of Columbia. It's something that some of you know weighs very heavily on my heart, and I don't blush about this. This is an issue of the heart with me; this is about the children. Institutions are important--and we must have institutions--but institutions do not exist to serve institutions. Schools are something that we provide for our children. The school's purpose is to serve the child. We judge the goodness or the badness, the effectiveness or the ineffectiveness, of the school in terms of what it means in the life of a child. Other than that, what's the purpose?

You wouldn't hire someone to work in your hardware store and judge the extent to which he kept the shelves properly stocked in terms of how satisfied was he with the job. The question is: Was it a service to your customers that made it possible for them to conveniently come in and find whatever they needed? By the same token, should we should apply the same standard to something that is so much more important in our culture and our life and in our basic consideration of what's precious?

People ask me, "Is there something more precious than a child? Should there be any criteria by which we judge a school and its performance other than the joy of learning in that child?" Unhappily, we have schools that fail miserably in that.

And what's really heartbreaking is going on in D.C. We all talk about the failure of schools in D.C. But what really breaks your heart is we've got a great population of empty spots in schools that are not failing their children. And so we have a host of children that are in a school that's breaking their little hearts while the desks are sitting empty in this other school. Can't we devise an instrument by which to move that child--through the decisions and choices of his parents, who are, in fact, his first, best, and most important teachers in his life--to where he finds success and happiness in his young life? Because that, in fact, is his foundation on which to build. Someplace where he's encouraged.

My critics say, "But you let down the institutions." I reply, "How can you hold the institution up against the child?" Public education is not a small part of what the final outcome is. We once led the world and were the envy of the world in how we educated our children through public education. If we ever again are to be the envy of the world in how we educate our children, it will be built around the solid foundation of a good public education. And this education choice, which responds to this child, is not something that is a refutation of the public schools; it is something that is designed hopefully to encourage the public schools. But I'm saying there's a focus there.

I use the word corruption. I'm often advised not to use that word. I know it sounds pejorative, but to me it is corrupt to take something that's intended for one purpose and use it toward another purpose. The schools are intended for the purpose and the lives of the children. When you put a purpose other than that ahead of that, you've corrupted the schools. We need to restore a sense of mission to the schools and reconnect the responsibility.

We have legislation coming through the Judiciary Committee that, on the surface, may seem to be about dollars. You might think it's about dollars. It's bankruptcy reform. I don't think it's about money at all. It's about the character of a nation. It's about people knowing their responsibility to their creditors. So, I go to you and I borrow money from you. You put a faith and you put a trust and you put a confidence in me. And I have, in fact, in return for your confidence, accepted a liability of responsibility. We have bankruptcy laws today that, far from stigmatizing you if you, in fact, file for bankruptcy, stigmatize you if you don't. I'm sure many of you are not going to believe this, but I'm 58 years old. Even in my young life, I can remember when, in fact, bankruptcy was a matter of embarrassment to a family, to an individual. People were more prudent in how they used their resources, in how they conducted their business and in how they fulfilled their obligations to one another. I know it says in the Lord's Prayer, "Lord forgive me my debts as I forgive my debtors," but I don't think the Lord had today's bankruptcy laws in mind, quite frankly.

And, yes, I think we will change that. Again, I don't think it's a matter of dollars and it's not a matter of the distribution of outcomes between this population and that population; it's about the character of a nation. It's about responsibilities, and it's about fulfilling your obligations.

We're now looking at a similar thing with the issue of reforming the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We've carried the notion to the point that if you are, in fact, an international businessman and you are careless in how you make investments in Malaysia, should the government stand between you and risk? Risk is what gives you prudence, and prudence is what gives you success. When the government accepts the risk, nobody takes the risk.

So, when we talk about reforming international institutions so that they serve principles of sound judgment, responsibility, and living with consequences, I think it's the same thing that you should apply in the lives of individuals. For us to continue to just send money through the IMF to prop up bad, failed business decisions that were made by imprudent people spreads this sort of character erosion to international forums.

One of my favorites is Auto Choice. These are things that we will be doing this year. Auto Choice. We have today a system of insuring automobiles that's like a mandatory lottery. Everyone in America gets to spend as much as one-third as much as is necessary for his auto liability insurance in order to be eligible to cash in on the lottery of pain and suffering damages, whether they like it or not.

I have to tell you something about insurance. Once you've got the coverage, you've always got the temptation to use it. And what has happened with this? I've watched the process of change, the fact that, not too long ago, we had lawyers who advertised and still do regularly, saying, "If you have an accident, call me. I'll get you what you deserve. And if you don't have a doctor, I'll refer you to one."

In Dallas Texas, we have what are called K-Clinics. They literally advertise, "If you have an accident, come to us and, if you don't have a lawyer, we'll refer you to one." I think they've diminished the character of both professions. And they're holding up a temptation. Now, if you want to join the lottery, you go out there and you voluntarily decide you play the game or you don't play the game. But we have insurance laws that say, "You're in the lottery, and you have no choice." Once you're in the insurance lottery, the temptations to play the game are great.

Where did I get my inspiration? My mother, who lived in North Dakota all her life, came every winter--just like clockwork--up and down icy steps. She fell on the steps of a friend's business establishment and broke her hip. She was about 60 years old. She went to a doctor, which I think is a natural and necessary thing to do. She then was visited by a lawyer, and the lawyer told her, "You can sue him." She replied, "Why would I sue the man? He's my friend." "Don't worry about him, his insurance will pay for it." Bless her heart, my mother said, "What about my responsibility? I've lived in this state and walked up these streets. Did I not have some responsibility to be cautious on icy steps?"

My mother understood that there's a question of respect, there's a question of decency, there's a question of self-restraint. There also is a question of aversion to greed that she didn't, in fact, find herself willing to file a lawsuit. Now, I don't think she was altogether extraordinary for her generation. I think you would have found that story retold a thousand times for my mother's generation.

Here we are, just a generation from that, and if we had the typical telling of such a story today, we would be talking about how naIve she was and how she had missed an opportunity. I think my mother saw the opportunity to be a decent person and accepted her responsibility for what she herself should have cared for and attended to. And I think she represents a far, far more inspirational example to hold up to my children than she would have been had she been sitting there with $1 million to hold before them. So, yes, I believe that we ought to reform the auto insurance laws and give you the choice. If you want to be in the lottery, be my guest; but if you don't want to be in the lottery--if you want to use insurance for that which it's intended--do that.

We are talking about what we have done in welfare reform and what we have done in public housing reform once again. These accomplishments once again give people a chance to be free on their own terms, give them the opportunity to know the value of independence, and give them the ability to be independent.

There are other areas, as well, in which we will act legislatively this year. Partial birth abortion, for example, is extremely important for us to understand. It's very important. In the debate on partial birth abortion, we simply told people the truth about what this procedure is. And when people saw how horrible the procedure is, they were repulsed by it. The nation rose to the defense of these babies. It was a framing of the issue in an honest and straightforward manner. You know, the good book says, "Tell the truth in love." The truth was ugly. The truth was not pretty. A lot of people thought it was not appropriate to go out and tell that truth in such graphic detail. But when the truth was out, the truth brought a new commitment to this idea of the importance of human life. We'll take that commitment forward and hope that President Clinton will sign this bill and protect these babies. But, if he doesn't, we will try to override it; and if we can't, we'll try again.

The cloning ban, I think, is extremely serious business. I put it this way: The Lord's in His heaven, He's made us as perfectly as He chose to--in His own image--and we don't need amateurs here trying to improve on the job. But do you think that there isn't someplace where you just say to your technology and to your science and to your engineering, "No, there's a step beyond which we're really not morally willing to go"? Or do we do everything just because it's there?

On the assisted suicide ban, the Oregon decisions these last few weeks have been frightening. You're a lot of young people here. At my age, you'll understand why it's much scarier. But it's another question: Is life something that is sanctified? Is it really something that is beyond our moral authority to try to control, or to take or to not take? We have to make decisions about these things; they're serious matters.

I think it is a matter of reconnecting our sense of real responsibility with the options we have before us, knowing that there are limits that are defined by questions--sometimes of faith, sometimes of integrity, sometimes of morality--but there are things that are right, there are things that are wrong. Those things must be understood; they must be complied with. You must have the sense of personal discipline to not step over that line.

Now, as I write law, I see the American people as a good people who are governed by what we call the eternal verities of truth, of integrity, and of morality. We must make the law reflect that goodness in the American people. And we will do that when we take forward the Religious Freedom Amendment. The Constitution is correct in saying that we shall make no law to create a religion or impose it on another person. No one I know wishes to do that. I know no one who wouldn't resist any effort to do that. But should we not be as free in this nation to give expression freely and voluntarily to our faith--whatever it is--as to give expression to any other thing we might value in our life? And should that not be protected? I say it must--and I think we will--do that, and we will do that with a judicious piece of legislation that protects people from the imposition of faith on their life.

We have to speak up, as Congressmen like Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Christopher Smith (R-NJ) are doing, on religious persecution. This is wrong, and it's time to take a stand against it. And we will do these things.

I've told you about some things that we will do legislatively. I believe we are right to do these things, and there are others. These are the things that I wanted to focus on today because I believe they reflect what this nation is searching for. It's in the reconnection between personal responsibility and personal liberty within the framework of values, morality, and integrity that are values that will make things go well for us as a nation. But I also believe we have an obligation to do these things in our lives, and this is where I really want to talk about a new Contract with America, a new partnership relationship.

I asked for the privilege of representing 550,000 beautiful people in Texas, and I committed myself to the responsibility of representing what is the best of who you are. I also accept for myself the responsibility of living a life that can be held up as an example and as encouragement to your children and your grandchildren. Because I don't believe I can have an authority that is not a just authority that is granted to me by the people whom I represent. And I believe that, to some extent, it has to be what we might call a moral authority, an authority that is an example. I believe it was important to me as a child to have the example of George Washington, who could not tell a lie--and did not, with regard to his little hatchet. That was important to me. I think that had something to do with some of the things I learned along the way. And I believe we have to--I think you have to--be involved.

We put together our Tools for Tomorrow program. We have nine little guys, and it just hit me the other day: I didn't accept these nine little children for just this year when they're in the third and fourth grade; I accepted them all the way through high school. What did I get myself into? I've taken a lot of joy from these children, watching them as they've moved from one school to another and through the Tools for Tomorrow program. I've seen them with their mentors and seen them blossom. But it isn't enough that I take that joy. I have to stick with the job. The job's a commitment that goes beyond joy. I think we all ought to pick up a commitment of this type for ourselves, so that we are, in fact, involved in the lives of other people in a manner that's a true service to them. This helps them to do in their lives the things that will make them safe. But I would suggest to you that we will not have that as the conduct of people in high elective office or the direction in which law goes unless we, as a nation, go beyond endorsing it and to demanding.

Billy Tauzin and I are crossing the nation on tax reform to tell you we can't give you a new tax code until you make it imperative through your demands. I would say we can't give you a system of tort law, bankruptcy law, insurance law, and religious freedom legislation that allows you to be free to practice your goodness and your free life unrestrained by bad government unless you rise to the occasion of demanding it. If I had two things to ask of people in this country, it would be:

  1. Understand we are doing the best we can today
    We backslide; sometimes we fall down on the job; sometimes we miss the mark. But let's have a strength of commitment to what we're trying to achieve that makes it possible for us to find that person who disappointed us yesterday and walk with him down this path to that success today. Pick it up and move it along. I'd say if I have a love song for America in that regard, it is, "We've Only Just Begun."

  2. Give us strength through a commitment to excellence in your own lives
    I will make a commitment, and I believe my colleagues will make a commitment, to do a job of service that can be held up as an example and encouragement to your children. But we have no strength from that unless we draw that strength from your doing that in your own life. It has to be a partnership relationship. I think this nation has to turn away from many of the avant garde attitudes we've had--those things that have been so intellectually and aesthetically pleasing to our eyes and our ears in the short run--and get back in touch with those that are of lasting value, the things that grandma and grandpa taught you that made you more lucky, more healthy, more successful, and more happy. These are the values that will give this nation an opportunity to have the greatness it has had and must have again in the future.

--Dick Armey, a Republican, is Majority Leader and represents the 26th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.

By the Honorable Randy Tate

First, I want to thank all of you for coming out today. I want to specifically thank The Heritage Foundation. The Christian Coalition has a very close relationship with Heritage, not just the proximity of our offices to each other--ours is just across the street--but we work very closely with Heritage on a regular basis and really appreciate its efforts. Majority Leader Armey is someone I look up to, not just because he's about two feet taller than I, but because he's someone I've looked up to for a long, long time. I know when he comes up here to speak, he means everything he says: He believes in trying to change America with every fiber of his being. He truly is a friend of the family to many of the people that I represent across this country and we commend you for your leadership on this.

I was asked to provide some commentary on what the Majority Leader had to say, and also to comment on a memo that he sent out to other members of the House Republican Conference. If you haven't had a chance to read through this, I highly recommend it. I received a copy of this in advance of its release for commentary and found myself going through it saying, "Bravo!" The reason I say that is because I've had a chance to travel across the United States and do other things outside my Christian Coalition duties up here on Capitol Hill. Whether it was in Bemidji, Minnesota, or Birmingham, Alabama, or back up in Bismarck, North Dakota--your old stomping grounds, Mr. Majority Leader--the message was clear. People wanted to hear issues that addressed the moral concerns in America; they see those as a solution to the problems. I represent people of faith across this country. That faith is the foundation from which their moral values come: A faith in God, of family, the primacy of the family, of freedom. These are the keys to our solutions that we need in this country. They know that personal responsibility, family values, and morality are the keys to the success of their particular families, but also to the success of this country. The solutions to our problems aren't necessarily economic in nature.

The budget's going to be balanced, and I commend the Majority Leader for his efforts on that. Even if the budget is balanced, gross domestic product is up, and unemployment is the lowest it has been in 25 years, it doesn't matter so long as we have metal detectors in schools, inner cities that look like Beirut, and a large number of children are born out of wedlock. We have more work to do. The solutions are not found in just economics; they are found in a moral foundation. And how we present those issues is almost as important as the issues we believe in.

I'll give you a personal example of why it's important.

In 1995, when I was serving in Congress, the government shut down. I remember coming out of a Republican conference and having a reporter grab me, putting the microphone up to my mouth and pointing a camera at me, asking, "Why do you support holding out to balance the budget? What are your reasons and the importance for balancing the budget?" I made the following statement, "Because I believe we need to have a balanced budget in seven years and be scored by the Congressional Budget Office." The reporter had a blank stare on his face. I'm sure the thousands of people back in my district asked, "Randy, what are you saying? You went to Congress to balance the budget because it was the morally right thing to do." I missed an opportunity to make that point because, really, what we're into with this balanced budget is not about saying the budget's balanced in seven years, or five years, or this year. It's because Madeleine and Spencer, our children, shouldn't be saddled with this enormous debt. That's why we do it, not because it's the moral equivalent of a CBO score. That doesn't do anything in particular for people back home. So it's important that we don't sound like accountants wearing nice suits with green eye shades.

Recently, NBC and The Wall Street Journal took a poll asking the number one issue of concern to Americans today over the next ten years. Declining moral values was the number one issue. Number two was crime, and number three was education. I believe these are all interrelated in a lot of different ways.

American parents are troubled by what they hear and see from their elected officials and in the media, and by what they don't hear and see from their elected officials and in the media. Majority Leader Armey talked at length about the importance of families and instilling those moral values in your children. I try very hard with Spencer and Madeleine, and we expect our children to take our discipline and our guidance very seriously. But they also should expect their parents and society to take those same things seriously. Today, as we watch the evening news, most of us understand we are failing in this particular instance, in setting those sorts of examples. We need to start at the top. All of us need to lead by example. And those morals that we teach our children are the basis of a civil society, of a free society.

Some of you may have watched the Alexis de Toqueville series on C-Span. It did an extensive study on his observance when he was here in the 1830s. He made a point, which I think is very clear in his writings and which I often use in speeches. "Morality is the best security of laws as well as the surest pledge of freedom." He says, at length, that, in America, we are bestowed with so many privileges and so much freedom. We can do just about anything. The guard rails (as I like to call them) keep us on that road so we don't fall off the cliff, so that we don't go and take it too far. It's the counterbalance. But our children are bombarded with messages that say, "Hey, rules are written for somebody else," or "It really doesn't matter what you do; it's all relative." These messages are tearing down the guard rails that I've talked about. I believe the best way to protect our children is to provide them with that moral basis.

I've spoken on theory and concepts here. There are things all of us can do in the political system to make a difference on these theories and on these concepts because they're tried and true. We need to challenge the political system to confront issues of moral and transcendent significance that otherwise might be ignored or swept away in favor of purely economic issues. You know, we can't always legislate the family values that we'd like to see, but we can insure that Washington values families.

The Majority Leader mentioned the elimination of the marriage tax penalty. That's something that's been on the Christian Coalition's agenda for a long, long time. That's part of our Contract with the American Family. Now, penalizing people who get married, increasing their taxes because they decide to live together, accepting the vows to each other, and committing themselves to each other is a bad idea. We all know, unfortunately, that President Clinton didn't mention it in his State of the Union speech. That was an incredible opportunity to speak out on this issue. And so we're going to continue to work on it. I commend the Majority Leader and individuals in both parties that have spoken out on this issue.

Education. Why is education important as we deal with moral issues that affect the family? Well, we believe in the primacy of the family. The first department of education is the family. The first department of social and health services is the family. The first teacher that a child will ever have is the parent. So who is better prepared to make the decisions for what kind of education their children have than the parent? They're the ones who are prepared to do that. We need to give them that opportunity.

We have schools here in Washington, D.C., that you wouldn't want to send your kids to, let alone drive past. That's wrong. God bless Floyd Flake, the former Democrat from Queens. I think he's actually in a more powerful position today than he was even when he was in Congress, because, as a minister, he is speaking out, saying the next wave of civil rights is going to be educational choice, giving parents the opportunity to decide. If you want to see a threat to a free society, you have a society that's not educated. And all of us got a wake-up call earlier this year when we saw the results where the United States ranked in math and science scores among Western industrialized countries. It's a wake-up call for all of us. That is a threat to our free society.

The Religious Freedom Amendment, which should come up for a vote sometime in May, will represent the first time in 27 years that such an amendment is coming out on the House floor. Why? You have to go to Alabama. They have prayer monitors in the schools in Alabama, as reported in The New York Times, to make sure children aren't praying. We have condoms being distributed in the schools. Knives and weapons are being brought; that's why the metal detectors are at the school. The last thing we should be concerned about is stopping children who want to exercise their First Amendment, free speech, religious rights.

When I got involved in politics, I was told that politics and faith and all this doesn't matter; you have to separate those two. I can tell you--and I'm sure the Majority Leader will reinforce this--that, when you get involved in politics, that's when your faith is most important. That's when it's most tested. That's when we can make the greatest difference in America. And so the Religious Freedom Amendment will make a significant difference.

I think it's good politics to talk about moral issues. George Washington said in his farewell speech that "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports."

Conservative issues are winning across this country on a regular basis. Look at Maine, where the voters recently shot down the issue of providing special privileges based on one's private sexual practices. It was the first law ever defeated in this country like that at a statewide measure. Up in Washington state, a similar measure was defeated that would have gone into law. In that same election this past November, voters stopped the legalization of marijuana and other illicit narcotics. Even more recently, voters in Oklahoma stopped the expansion of casino gambling. In Virginia, when the elections were over, The Washington Post said family issues were key to the outcome. So you can see that these issues are making an impact. They're packing a punch across the country.

So Dick Armey has planted a flag, so to speak, on moral issues and has given credence and momentum to a moral foundation for a family-friendly approach to government. It's the right thing to do. Social conservatives will work harder when they see their politicians talking about issues of the heart. The people I represent don't get involved in politics because they seek power or worship strength. They don't get paid. They do it because they see it as an extension of their faith to speak out against racism, injustice, immorality and things in this country that disturb them and are a threat to their children's future.

I have mentioned several problems that I see as opportunities--not to role back the clock, but to recalibrate the moral compass in America.

I want to commend Heritage for putting together this forum and Majority Leader Armey for having the guts and the vision to stand up and speak out for these sorts of issues. I greatly appreciate this opportunity.

--Randy Tate is Executive Director of the Christian Coalition.

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