President Gordon B. Hinckley speaking at the Freedom Festival, BYU Marriott Center, Provo, Utah 1997.
At this season when we memorialize the arrival of our forbearers in these valleys of the west, it is fitting that we celebrate freedom, the reason for their coming here. Human liberty is such a precious and remarkable thing that it is worthy of a great festival.
We’ve heard this remarkable choir tonight. They sing with such tremendous power. This choir has become a great national treasure. Its roots reach back 150 years to the pioneer beginnings of these mountain communities. We have had a wonderful time listening to them. I wish they could go on all evening…I would wish particularly. At the conclusion of my remarks, they will sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, which has stirred audiences throughout the world.
Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored
He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on
He has sounded forth the trumpet that will never call retreat
He is sifting out the hearts of men before his judgment seat
O be swift my soul to answer Him, be jubilant my feet
Our God is marching on
In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free
While God is marching on
This great hymn of hope stirs us now as it did more than a century ago when it was first sung. I promise you, every one of you, that you will be moved in your hearts as you again hear these talented voices singing out these marvelous and eloquent words. These words speak of the theme of this meeting: that theme is recognition of, and trust in the Almighty, who has guided this nation since its inception. I salute Crystal Jolley for the excellent talk she has given.
A news magazine writer asked me the other day during an interview concerning my belief concerning the Constitution of our country. I replied that I felt it was inspired, that both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were brought forth under the inspiration of God to establish and sustain the freedom of the people of this nation. I told him I looked upon the Founding Fathers as men who believed in God, as men who prayed to God, as men who recognized God and wished to do His will. What a singular and remarkable group they were! As I look across the world today, I search in vain for such a group has walked together across the stage of history when this nation was born.
Charles Malek, Secretary General of the United States, once said on this campus, “I respect all men and it is from this respect for none that I say there are no great leaders in the world today. In fact, greatness itself is laughed to scorn. You should not be great today; you should sink yourself into the herd. You should not be distinguished from the crowd; you should simply be one of the many.” He continued, “The commanding voice is lacking, the voice which speaks little but which when it speaks, it speaks with compelling moral authority. This kind of voice is not congenial to this age. The age flattens and levels down every distinction into drab uniformity. Respect for the high, the noble, the great, the rare, the specimen that appears once every hundred or every thousand years is gone. Respect at all is gone. If you ask people whom and what people do respect, the answer is literally nobody and nothing. This is simply an unrespecting age; it is the age of utter mediocrity. To become a leader today, even a mediocre leader, is a most uphill struggle. You are constantly in every way and from every side pulled down. One wonders who of those living today will be remembered a thousand years from now, the way we remember with profound respect Plato and Aristotle, Christ and Paul and Augustine and Aquinas.” He concluded, “If you believe in prayer my friends, and I know that you do, then pray that God send great leaders, especially great leaders of the spirit.”
Just think of a moment of George Washington, of Franklin, of Madison, of the Adams’s, of Thomas Jefferson, and their associates who signed the Declaration of Independence, or participated in the Constitutional Convention. Where in all the world today can even one or two such men be found, let alone the great aggregation that participated in the birth of America?
Can anyone deny that they were raised up unto this very purpose, that working together, they brought forth on this continent an independent nation at the risk of their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor? It is my conviction that while we’ve had a few great leaders since then, there has not been before or since, so large a group of talented, able, and dedicated men as those whom we call the Founding Fathers of this nation. For as long as they lived they acknowledged the hand of the Almighty in the affairs of this republic.
We have on our coinage and our currency a national motto. It simply says, In God We Trust. I know of no other nation with such a motto. Other nations use, By the Grace of God, but none other categorically states, In God We Trust. This is the foundation upon which this nation was established: an unequivocal trust in the power of the Almighty to guide and defend us. The hand of God was manifest when the United States of America came into being. It was evident even before then. Before disembarking from the Mayflower, our pilgrim fathers drafted and signed the compact which would become the instrument of their governance, the first such document drafted on this continent. It began with these words, “In the name of God, Amen.” It went on to say that the signers, “by these present, solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic.”
When George Washington resigned his commission as General of the Army he wrote, “I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last act of my official life, but commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendents of them to His holy keeping.” As Crystal has reminded us tonight, in his first inaugural address in 1789 he stated, “No people can be bound to acknowledge and ignore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”
We posted the colors tonight and stood and gave a pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and the Republic for which it stands. We said, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. That phrase, one nation under God, essentially comes from Abraham Lincoln. In the great Gettysburg address he stated, “This nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom.” That phrase was not in the pledge of allegiance that was spoken when I was a boy. Back in those days, all of us in grade school, if the weather permitted, would form at the front steps of the school. The flag would be posted and we would recite together the pledge of allegiance before going into the building for our daily school work. I am grateful for the addition of the words, One Nation Under God. To me, it is tremendously meaningful.
There are those in this nation today who would delete all this reference to Deity. They would take it out of the pledge of allegiance. They would take it from our coinage. They would remove it from any mention in our national life. John Wesley Heele has written, “Gettysburg was the high water mark of the rebellion. It involved the destiny of the union. Realizing this, it was Lincoln who at while battle was being fought was driven to his knees to struggle like Jacob of old, alone with God, until in Lincoln’s own words, “God told me he would give me Gettysburg and I believed Him.” When the news of the victory reached him, he gave to God the glory and set aside a day of national thanksgiving.
When Mrs. Margaret Thatcher was on this campus and I was talking with her, she said, “I cannot understand it; you have the motto, In God We Trust on your coinage and yet you cannot mention the name of Deity in the classrooms of your schools. She wondered, and I wonder about our consistency.
At this meeting tonight, the first verse of our national anthem was sung. We seldom hear the third verse, which include these words,
O thus be it ever when free-men shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation;
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!”
As boys who would grow to become citizens of this nation, we repeated the scout oath including these words; On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country. Now that is even being challenged in the courts of the land. According to the Wall Street Journal, the state of New Jersey last year passed a law banishing the mention of God from state courtroom oaths. Following this action by the legislature, a county just decided to ban Bibles for such oaths because, “You know who is mentioned inside.”
Without acknowledgement of deity, without recognition of the Almighty as the ruling power of the universe, the all important element of personal and national accountability shrinks and dies. Are we so arrogant as to believe that we can get along without Him? We see the manifestation of that arrogance in the great host of social problems with which we deal these days: teen pregnancy, abandoned families and broken homes, failure to recognize the property and rights of others, gangs of young people aimlessly cruising the streets of our cities, and many other problems like these have resulted in substantial part at least, from failure to recognize that there is a God to whom someday, each of us must give an accounting.
The wars in which this nation has been involved during this, the most bloody century of all time have resulted from the greed, the avarice, the arrogance, the conceit, and egotism of men in power who sought to enslave and exercise dominion over others. Their very attitude has been totally incompatible with recognition of the Almighty to whom each of us is accountable.
There can be no doubt of the sickness in our society today. We cannot build prisons fast enough to accommodate the need. Humanism has replaced worship in the lives of so many. We are forsaking the Almighty and I fear He is forsaking us. We are closing the door against the God, whose sons and daughters we are. We sang, “My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty.” We need to sing again and again the fourth verse of that hymn:
Our Father’s God to Thee, Author of liberty, To Thee we sing
Long may our land be bright, with freedom’s holy light,
Protect us by thy might, Great God our king
Going back to George Washington’s first inaugural speech, he voiced the hope, “that the foundations of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality.” He went on to say, “…there is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which heaven itself has ordained.” The psalmist of old wrote, “The counsel of the Lord standeth forever. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” Paul the apostle declared, “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
I believe we are paying a very high price for our increasing secularism. Jefferson said, “God who gave us life, gave us liberty.” Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are a gift of God?
Lincoln declared, “What constituted the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling seacoasts; our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us. Our defense is in the spirity which prized liberty as the heritage of all men in all lands everywhere.”
We go back to the prophetic words of Alexis de Tocqueville, who came here from France as a young man in the early 1800s. After traveling widely he said, “I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors, in her fertile fields and boundless forests, in her rich minds and vast commerce, in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic congress and in her matchless Constitution, but not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and her power. America is great because America is good. And if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
I am convinced that if we are to continue to have the freedoms which came of the inspiration of the Almighty to our Founding Fathers, we must return to the God who is their true author. We need to worship him in spirit and in truth. We need to acknowledge his all powerful hand. We need to humble ourselves before him and seek his guidance in all that concerns matters of state. Do we believe in the separation of church and state? Of course we do, but that belief does not preclude a petition to the Almighty for wisdom and guidance as we walk through these perilous times.
We celebrate the freedom of our nation. We hold this festival in remembrance of this greatest of all boons and blessings. May we look to him as the author of our liberty. Is it too much to expect that prayer, public and private, be once again established in our national and private lives? Then with a general acknowledgement of the God in whom we put our trust, we may expect a diminution in our social problems, an increase in public and private morality, and a renewed sense of freedom and liberty. I realize that after the choir sings we shall have a benediction on this sacred service to be offered by Senator Bennett, but if you will bear with me, I wish to conclude my remarks with a few words of solemn prayer. I invite all of you to lower your heads and close your eyes.
Oh God, our Eternal Father, thou who presides over the nations and their people, we come unto thee in prayer. We thank thee for this great and sovereign nation of which we are citizens. Touch the minds of those of our Congress that they shall stand tall and independent in defense of the liberty of the people. Bless the chief executive. He is our president. Let thy spirit move upon him to bring to pass those measures which will lift the burdens of government from the backs of the people and keep this nation under God, a citadel of freedom standing as an example to all the world. Bless the Supreme Court of the United States which in recent days has declared unconstitutional a measure designed to secure the religious liberty of the people of this nation. May a way be found under thy divine inspiration to bring to pass another measure which will be sustained by the court. May thy peace rest upon this nation. May we as a people look to thee and live. May the benevolent hand of the almighty protect us from the evil forces of the world. May humanism and secularism bend to an increased knowledge of these our Father and our God. May a spirit of brotherhood spread throughout the land. As we pray to thee, we do so in our manner and respect the prayers of others who speak after their manner. That thou wilt hear us all as we lift our voices in behalf of our beloved nation. Almighty Father, hear us, guide us, protect us, make us both strong and benevolent before the world. Forgive our erring ways. May we turn back to thee in our search for wisdom, for guidance, for direction, we humbly ask in Jesus’ sacred name, Amen.