Did Ronald Reagan Really Say This about Religion?

The Freedom From Religion Foundation — atheist jihadists — has erected a billboard near the Republican National Convention in Cleveland that features a portion of a Ronald Reagan quotation that the organization says stresses “the importance of separation of church and state.”

The billboard reads as follows:

“We establish no religion in this country … Church and state are, and must remain, separate.”

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The following are more contextual remarks that President Reagan made in his speech to the audience at Temple Hillel in Valley Stream, New York, on October 26, 1984:

“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.”

As expected, the Freedom From Religion Foundation can’t be trusted with historical facts. Here’s what foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement:

“The RNC needs to be reminded that our nation is predicated on a godless and entirely secular Constitution,” “The fate of our Establishment Clause hangs in the balance of the election. We’re not voting for the next president — we’re voting for the next Supreme Court justice.”

Reagan didn’t say anything that had not been said many times over the course of our nation’s history. The First Amendment prohibits Congress from establishing a religion, and Congress has never established a religion. In addition, no one is advocating that the government should “command” people to “worship” or “mandate” a particular “belief.”

History is against the FFRF. Our founders never supported the separation of religion from government, something quite different from separating Church and State which even the Bible supports. The Constitution is not “godless.” There are a number of references to clearly Christian concepts (“Done in the Year of our Lord. . .”; “No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses. . . ,” [No State shall] make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts,” sets Sunday aside as a day of rest for the President.) Moreover, the Constitution did not nullify any statement regarding religion found in the state Constitutions at the time. See my essay “University of Chicago Law Professor Attempts to Rewrite America’s Christian History.” It’s available as a free download here.

Now we come to the interesting part of Reagan’s remarks where he said, “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.”

The FFRF does not believe this. The organization goes out of its way to prohibit people from practicing their faith freely. Check with any public school.

On the Sweet Cakes by Melissa discrimination case, who did FFRF support? The Oregon administrative law judge who ruled that the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa discriminated “when they declined to provide a wedding cake for a lesbian couple because it would have violated their Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage.” In effect, the state denied the religious liberty of the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa. FFRF stands for Freedom FROM Religion, not freedom OF religion. The First Amendment does not say anything about a separation between Church and State. It says Congress establish a religion or “prohibit the free exercise” of religion.

Former President Reagan is in line with history on the jurisdictional separation of Church and State (of which the Constitution never mentions) and the relationship between religion and civil governments. The First Amendment deals with what Congress can and cannot do regarding the states and nothing more.

What the FFRF won’t post on a billboard are statements like the following from Reagan said:

  • “Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.”1

  • “Let us, young and old, join together, as did the First Continental Congress, in the first step – humble, heartfelt prayer.  Let us do so for the Love of God and His great goodness, in search of His guidance, and the grace of repentance, in seeking His blessings, His peace, and the resting of His kind and holy hands on ourselves, our Nation, our friends in the defense of freedom, and all mankind, now and always.”2
  • “If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”

On the tenth anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade pro-abortion decision, President Reagan published his book Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation (1983). In an article published the same year, Reagan appealed to the Declaration of Independence and its reference to the Creator arguing that it’s God who defines personhood, not Supreme Court Justices who act as if they are gods. He then cites Abraham Lincoln who also appealed to the founder’s document: “This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures.”

In his 1983 speech before the National Association of Evangelicals, Reagan could have had the Freedom From Religion Foundation in mind when he said this about tyrants:

“It was C.S. Lewis who, in his unforgettable Screwtape Letters3, wrote: ‘The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.’”

  1. From a speech given to the National Association of Evangelicals on March 8, 1983

  2. Speech before the Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast in Dallas Texas, 1984. 

  3. From the Preface. 


Gary DeMar

Gary DeMar was raised in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University (1973) and Reformed Theological Seminary (1979). He has served as researcher and writer at the Christian Worldview ministry American Vision since 1980 and President since 1984. Today he serves as Senior Fellow at American Vision where he lectures, researches, and writes on various worldview issues. Gary is the author of 30 books on a variety of topics – from "America’s Christian History" and "God and Government" to "Thinking Straight in a Crooked World" to "Last Days Madness." Gary has been interviewed by Time magazine, CNN, MSNBC, FOX, the BBC, and Sean Hannity. He has done numerous radio and television interviews, including the “Bible Answer Man,” hosted by Hank Hanegraaff and “Today’s Issues” with Tim Wildmon and Marvin Sanders. Newspaper interviews with Gary have appeared in the Washington Times, Toledo (Ohio) Blade, the Sacramento Bee, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Marietta Daily Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, The Orlando Sentinel, and the Chicago Tribune.

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