Presidential Radio Address - 22 January 1983
My fellow Americans:
A week ago, Graham Washington Jackson, an ex-Navy musician, died in Atlanta at the age of 79. You probably don't recognize his name, but his face became familiar to millions of Americans when President Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, Georgia, in 1945. There's a very famous, very moving photo of Chief Petty Officer Jackson, tears streaming down his face while he played "Going Home" on his accordion as F. D. R.'s body was borne away by train to Washington.
Mr. Jackson once said that as he began to play, "It seemed like every nail and every pin in the world just stuck in me." Mr. Jackson symbolized the grief of the Nation back in 1945, and I just wanted his own family to know the Nation hasn't forgotten their personal grief today, 38 years later.
As I'm sure Mr. Jackson's family would tell you, in times of sorrow the warmth and support of a family's ties are especially important. I've spoken a great deal about the strength and virtues of the American family. I'd like to return to that topic today, because the family will again be a top priority as we head into the new year—for the family is still the basic unit of religious and moral values that hold our society together.
In the year ahead we face serious, painful problems, like unemployment. In a few days I'll speak about the economic situation facing us, but I also want you to know we'll not ignore the moral essentials in the coming months. As many of you know, I strongly support an amendment that will permit our children to hold prayer in our schools. The amendment would allow communities to determine for themselves whether voluntary prayer should be permitted in their public schools. We didn't get that amendment through the last Congress, but I'll continue to push for it in the next Congress.
I believe that schoolchildren deserve the same right to pray that's enjoyed by the Congress and chaplains and troops in our armed services. The motto on our coinage reads, "In God We Trust." No one must ever be forced or pressured to take part in any religious exercise, but neither should the Government forbid religious practice. The public expression through prayer of our faith in God is a fundamental part of our American heritage and a privilege which should not be excluded from our schools.
Today, 5 million American kids attend private schools because of the emphasis on religious values and educational standards. The overwhelming majority of these schools are church-supported—Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish. And the majority of students are from families earning less than $25,000. In many parochial schools the majority of students are from minority neighborhoods. In addition to private tuition, these families also pay their full share of taxes to fired the public schools. I think they're entitled to some relief, since they're supporting two school systems and only using one.
Last year, as a matter of tax equity, we introduced legislation to give these families a break. We don't seek to aid the rich, but those lower- and middle-income families who are most strapped by taxes and the recession. In proposing tuition tax credits, we hope to provide greater choice and wider educational opportunity for our children. The Congress failed to pass the measure we proposed, but we're not giving up. In the coming session, we will again work to secure passage of tuition tax credits.
There's another issue closely identified with families, although the issue itself often splits families apart. Ten years ago today, the Supreme Court overturned the State laws protecting the lives of the unborn. Heated debate on abortion has raged ever since. On one hand, there is the argument that a woman should have control over her own person. On the other hand, there is the argument that another life is involved here—the unborn child. That's the belief which has drawn many here to Washington today to march and to pray.
I, too, have always believed that God's greatest gift is human life and that we have a duty to protect the life of an unborn child. Until someone can prove the unborn child is not a life, shouldn't we give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it is'? That's why I favored legislation to end the practice of abortion on demand and why I will continue to support it in the new Congress.
Now, some of you may be thinking, "Well, he hasn't said a thing that's new." I guess that's true. Some values shouldn't change. But I want you to know there are certain family issues I'll advocate even though it's the budget and the economy that will be getting the headlines, especially in the days ahead.
I realize, though, that to the family with a member unemployed, the economy is a family member. And I'll take that up in my State of the Union address Tuesday night. I hope you'll tune in.
Until next week at this same time, thanks for listening, and God bless you.