George Bush photo

Remarks at a Meeting With Amish and Mennonite Leaders in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

March 22, 1989

The President. Let me say in the beginning I appreciate you all taking time from your busy day. And one of the reasons I want to come here, accompanied by our Attorney General and former Secretary of Education, who has been charged with the whole program on fighting drugs, Bill Bennett, is to salute you, because as we look at a national drug problem, we find that in communities such as yours, because of your adherence to family values and faith, the problem appears to be close to nonexistent -- hopefully nonexistent. And I have been over at the school talking there, and met with some kids where regrettably it isn't nonexistent. And I said in my comments there that these values of neighborhood and family and faith -- somehow they come back to me, anyway, if we engage in this national crusade, to be fundamentally important.

So, I wanted to start by saying that, though this is an antinarcotics swing, this stop is to maybe hear from you all as to how your community manages to stave off the scourge of drugs. And anyway, that was one of the things. I don't know who wants to take the lead here, but we're very pleased to be with you.

Mennonite Leader. We thank you for coming here. First of all, we wish the Lord to bless our meeting here. And we are happy to have you here, but we are also somewhat saddened that it takes the drug issue and alcohol to bring you here.

My wife and I have eight children, two of which are married. And two are with a youth group. Three are going to school here. Our 18-year-old son was driving with a man one time, and he said, "Do you mind if I smoke pot?"

The President. Your kid was driving with -- yes.

Mennonite Leader. In a pickup, he was driving along with the pickup -- and "Do you mind if I smoke pot? Will you tell the boss?" He said, "I sure will."

So, it makes me almost quiver in my boots when I think that that youth could have been tempted to do that because he was exposed to it. And it's by the grace of God that we have what we have -- what we have as values, that you were just talking about, handed down to us from our fathers. When they came to this country, it was the Indians and the bears that they feared for life. Now it's the highway with alcohol and the drug influence. When we drive down the road, we don't know what shape that man is that's coming towards us, and we are concerned.

What could we do as Christians to maintain that value? We do not want to uphold ourselves that we have something that we worked for and that we deserve, but it is by the grace of God that we have been given it through our parents and have withstood -- took their stand to this day. And we would like to ask you what we could do as Christians to help to stop that flow from Lancaster County?

The President. Well, in terms of the interdiction of the flow, I would think that that would largely be the responsibility, to some degree, of local law enforcement, because I'm told that even in a marvelous rural community, some of the fields are used for illicit drops. And you know, they signal the plane, and the plane goes on. So, in that area, encouraging your local law enforcement people would be very important.

We realize that we have -- the three of us and Senator Specter here and our Chief of Staff, John Sununu -- a disproportionate responsibility in the interdiction. I say "we," the Federal Government, because we're talking about at the borders. And Dick Thornburgh is just back from meeting with various heads of government in Central America, where a lot of the crops, as you know, are grown.

But I guess what I'd say -- and then I'd like to ask Bill Bennett, who, as you know, was formerly our Secretary of Education, to say a word -- but I guess what I'd say is: keeping moral underpinnings with your community and then, hopefully, having others see that as an example. I don't want to argue with you because you're too good a host, but I think it is important I'm here because it gives us a chance to have a conversation like this and to understand a little better why it is -- and you've already touched on it -- faith -- why it is that you all have been able to withstand the pressure when others have not.

Mennonite Leader. My concern is how can we maintain that? We have a preschool son, four-year-old. When he is 18 and the problem is exploding, so to speak -- --

The President. Exactly. Well, that's what our whole new -- I don't want to say the word "crusade," that's a little like a cliche -- but I view it as that in terms of both the demand and the supply side. You mentioned interdiction, and that's the supply. But the whole demand side -- I have gotten to use the White House as a bully pulpit to argue and to encourage people all across the country on the demand side.

Mennonite Leader. We appreciate your concern.

The President. We met with some kids -- we've got to do it.

But, Bill, now, you've fought this in the education role and now as our drug czar. Why don't you add some to that?

Mr. Bennett. Well, I just -- --

The President. That was a very good question you raised.

Mr. Bennett. -- -- wonder what your children say or your grandchildren say about this. Is it their sense that -- as they report to you -- that things are better, worse, or more temptation to do this out there, or less? What are the kinds of things that they report on this? As you see this threat -- I think we all take it very seriously -- but for me, a lot of the way I see the threat is through the eyes of young people. They are really there on the line.

Mennonite Leader. They're concerned.

Mr. Bennett. And I wonder what they are telling you in terms of things. Are things better than they were 5 years ago? Are they worse than they are?

Mennonite Leader. In my opinion, it would be worse, because our two oldest sons work at public places and they both were exposed to drugs and had opportunity to buy. Now, what I'm concerned about is, like I said, the four-year-old. By the time he comes of age, will he be able to say no?

Mr. Bennett. Yes.

Mennonite Leader. Will he continue to maintain that value that we are trying to plant into our children that was implanted into us, as President Bush just said about values. This is what we uphold more than money. I don't want to take much of your time, but we want to teach our children there's more of a greater value to go to bed with a clear conscience than to make money on drugs or to get high on it.

Mr. Bennett. Well, we have found in all the drug studies that the best community, the best protection for a young person, is what one of the people writing has called the internal compass in the sense of high aspiration: deeply rooted values, faith, and a closeness to family. These are the things, if you wanted to design a system which would protect the children.

And I don't think, whatever kind of drug we see, whatever kind of onslaught you see, that those rules will change. It seems to me that has been the case throughout history in terms of the best things we can do for our young people. One of the things that we see is a very strong affirmation on the part of young people who have experimented with drugs, in many cases, have almost been destroyed -- they come back and reaffirm what we've seen. They tell us, having gone through the trial, having gone through the fire, that what was missing in their lives was this.

The President. May I tell you one other additional -- this gets a little bit off, but it gives you an idea of how we're looking at this. I don't want to see Federal legislation that diminishes the family. We've got a big, new thing on child care now. And I think the Federal Government does have some responsible role in child care. But our approach is to give the families the choice, to give the families -- well, put it this way, some religious institutions are new day-care services. I don't want to see the Federal law defined so narrowly by the bureaucracy in Washington that it erodes out the community, religious institutions, or family from child care. And yet I do think the Federal Government has a role in helping the private sector, helping the States in the question of child care.

So, philosophically, you say what does this have to do with drugs? Because I think you are a shining example of what family and faith can do. Where we have responsibilities at the Federal level, we must see that inadvertently we don't weaken the role of family or weaken the role of, I'd say, faith in our country. I believe in separation of church and state; but I don't want to see the church people get together in a church community and take care of the other guy's kids -- work from whatever it is, and then have them denied that because of Federal money serving as a magnet that has to go into some federally certified, rubber-stamped institution down the street. So, we will be working at the Federal level to see that we don't impose on communities legislation that, even though it isn't intended that way, would diminish and weaken the family. And it isn't easy, but there are other areas, I think, where we're going to be able to -- Dick, you want to say something?

Attorney General Thornburgh. Well, I, as you know, am in the law enforcement side of the effort to deal with drugs. President Bush -- I'm sure you've heard it said -- has established a goal of providing a kinder and gentler America. And I think that's one that we support to a man or woman throughout this country. But a kinder, gentler America is not one where drugs are abused and where drug traffickers rule the streets of some of our communities. I've told the President that if we're going to have a kinder, gentler America, we're going to have to be rougher and tougher with some Americans: those who are drug traffickers, those who are the urban terrorists that have captured so many of our communities. And that's a job for law enforcement. The President's supporting tougher laws. He's supporting more resources for our police and prosecutors, and supporting a tougher attitude toward those countries in the international community where these substances are grown and produced. And we'll do our share in helping to interrupt the flow of drugs into your community.

But for my two cents' worth, I just want to underscore what the President has said: even from a law enforcement view, how important it is for the types of values that you've enunciated and practiced in your communities to gain currency in every community across the United States so that the appetite for drugs and the consumption of drugs, the demand for drugs, is diminished to a point where we don't have this problem.

But we're very grateful for the opportunity to visit with you, learn from you, and carry the message that's exemplified by your communities elsewhere. Thank you.

Mennonite Leader. We're very happy for your concern and what you're doing for the sake of the young people of the U.S. And I think the fact that we have no trouble with drug addiction is because of the close family ties; and the children are taught obedience at a very young age and self-denial, that they don't have everything they wish as they're growing up; and because they are taught of God, and urged to pray, and in school have prayer and Bible reading. And as they grow up, they have a sense of value that they're not just out seeking thrills and drugs or any other. We appreciate it much for the warnings on the tobacco ads: harmful to the body -- wish it were on the alcoholic drinks. And we surely appreciate your efforts.

Another thing that I think why we have no drug problem is for things we do not do. We do not have television, radio; and as I understand, almost -- coming into the homes of sexual things and robbers, and children growing up in that atmosphere. It's just that they're at a disadvantage, I think.

You read in the Bible of the people who do not seek after God, and that God is not in all their thoughts. I think that is why the young people of America are going astray with drugs. We wish God would be more in their thoughts, and you respond to a higher power.

Mennonite Leader. I also welcome President Bush. We feel kind of honored to be here. And as for us, as a people, as we are -- it's one advantage that we have strived for, and that is like Aaron there said, that we don't have television and recorded music. We feel sorry that our Constitution or our courts have taken the prayer and Bible reading out of schools. Then, after that has left, we also have this rock music. And those things just enter into the mind, that the child will do things that they had not intended to do, and then they are turned to drugs. It leads to that.

Now, if our moral fiber -- not ruin it through removing the prayer and Bible, we'd have a stronger America today. But that is the thing. This is why we feel what we have is because we try to avoid this recorded music, rock music, and those things that the child has control -- the spirit can be -- rather than it being entertained by the music of the world and some of the -- as you all know, that hard music is -- well, you know all about it. And that's where we shy away strongly, because it just does something to a person. And that's from our stand of viewpoint. That's where we feel we have some advantage with our children, because they are not exposed to that point, that they have more self-control.

The President. You know, it's interesting on the music. I think of the action that Susan Baker, who is the wife of our Secretary of State, and Tipper Gore, who is the wife of a man who ran for President last year and a United States Senator -- they got outraged by just some of the really bad lyrics in this music. And they took their fight -- aware of the right of people to speak out and the freedom of speech amendment -- but they took this fight to the public, and indeed they were ridiculed for this in a lot of high, sophisticated quarters, even though the lyrics were so bad and so awful that they would challenge any family. And they went through a real tough time, but they have not let up on it. And they've got the most sophisticated, liberal communities -- get all over them, thinking that they're violating somebody's right to speak. And I was quite supportive in talking to them and know what they're doing.

I think we have an obligation as President -- you do have to be careful of violating somebody's freedom of speech. But I think there are some certain excesses that have cropped in now that we've come to condone, that under the same Constitution would have been condemned years ago.

So, I think these are interesting warnings you're putting out here. I want to preserve freedom of speech and freedom of expression. But I think it's fine when citizens are up in arms about it and try to express their viewpoint. Maybe we've gone too far in some things. I mean, I don't like seeing the American flag down on the floor, either. I know how this President looks at it. But maybe that's a little reactionary, but that's exactly the way I feel about it. And so, we'll see.

Mennonite Leader. President Bush, of course, we don't want you to leave here feeling we are making demands or telling the bad side. We also wanted to express appreciation for what you and former Presidents have done for us in the past. We want you to realize that we do feel grateful for what has been done for us. I thought maybe we could just relate a thought that seemed to be some of our teaching, that the hand that rocks the cradle, it rules the Nation. Not only speaking to the young people, maybe the parents, if they could some way -- that parents could plant this in their children at a younger age -- would often go a far way.

Mennonite Leader. We are not so politically involved as some groups are, but we spiritually support our country, and we pray for them at every church service. We pray for our government and thank God for the freedom we have in religion and so forth. And I'm afraid we do not appreciate this as much in our thoughts or in our actions as far as confessing to be Christians in our way of looking at things.

Mr. Bennett. If I may, I know you wouldn't say it -- I think that we could all take pride -- I'm not sure there's ever been a President or a First Lady who were better parents to teach by their example what it means to be parents and grandparents. And I think this is a lesson in all these areas, whether you're talking about drugs or alcohol or anything else. I know I learned at the Department of Education -- not every teacher is a parent, but every parent is a teacher, a child's first teacher. So, I think we have a special blessing that this President and this First Lady are as splendid parents, very splendid teachers, as well -- if you'll allow me, Mr. President.

The President. These things are important, and you have to find the balance, I mean, in the Presidency or in the responsibility as an Attorney General. And now we don't want to be disrespectful of people's right to differ and people's right, as I say, of freedom of expression. But I know, I am absolutely certain, that family values and community and faith -- where those abound, the problems that we're talking about over in that school of fighting narcotics, the fight is easier and the problem less big.

No one's immune. You mentioned the kid of yours, driving along with the pressure. Who knows who's going to succumb, no matter how strong their faith. And this is what -- I mean, everybody's waxing philosophical here, but when you see kids born into this world with really one-part family with very little love and very little hope -- I mean, it's tough for a child. Then off in the school system, and it's very, very tough. I'm not suggesting that it's easy and that everybody that is not blessed with the faith of your community should automatically be perfect. But somehow, we have got to find ways to strengthen the American concept of family and faith. And it can't be legislated. Once we start legislating, there's a threat to you in that kind of thing, threat to your kind of community. But somehow we've got to find ways to point out our nation's historic reliance on these things.

Did I interrupt? You were going to say something.

Amish Leader. No.

The President. No? Anybody else?

Amish Leader. I think perhaps the public should be urged, as well as ourselves, to probably get back to the Bible.

Amish Leader. I'm about worn out. I'm 90 years old. But I thank you for coming to Pennsylvania, Lancaster County. The President visits Lancaster County -- I thank you.

The President. Don't sound worn out at all.

Mennonite Leader. He can't understand much.

The President. Really? That's loud and clear. There's something about the Presidency -- leave out the fact that George Bush is President -- that when you go around in that big automobile and you see people who may vote for you or may have not voted for you turning out to salute the Presidency, it is a very emotional experience, and it's a wonderful thing. I remember as a young guy, rushing out to see Presidents of another party. It has nothing to do with party. It has to do with the respect for the institution or an emotional commitment to the institution of the Presidency.

So, when we see those kids and those signs -- we were talking about that coming over with the Senator and the Governor and the Secretary and John Sununu -- it's very emotional. You almost get tears in your eyes. But it always has to be that. It always has to be -- we fight in these elections and then we come together as a country. And as you mentioned coming here, sir -- but it's a great pleasure for us to be here.

Amish Leader. That's my father.

The President. Is that your dad? Ninety years old. Well, my mother is 87. She's going pretty strong, not quite as strong as you are, though.

Mennonite Leader. I think the fact -- going across the U.S. -- that you're against drugs will help a lot. Just that fact. We just hope the people will stand to you. Years ago, Israel had a good King Solomon -- the Lord spoke to the people: "My people that are called by my name, humble themselves and pray and seek my face and confess -- and turn away from their sins, them I will hear from in Heaven and heal their name." I think a great responsibility is in the families to help you along in your wonderful work.

The President. You know, I'll share with you something. We're getting philosophical near the end of our visit here. But Barbara and I went to China as your emissary -- not ambassador then, because we didn't have, as you remember, full relations with China. And we went there in 1974, and then I was there in '75. And we had wondered about the family in China -- Communist country, totalitarian -- and the common perception was that there had been an erosion of the strength of family. We knew that there had been a banning -- almost entire banning on practicing and teaching Christianity. That was a given. But I wondered more fundamentally about family.

Then we got there. And then you'd see on their festival days -- you'd see the granddad and the grandson and the sons and daughters all together -- strong. And finally, when they dared talk to you -- and they didn't do much then because this was right after the Cultural Revolution -- they kept separating out from Westerners -- but when you did, when you'd get a little glimpse of it through sports or through somebody -- my language teacher -- it was family. My son is sick; we care about that. My husband is in the hospital. I mean, it was a family thing.

And we'd go to a little church service there. Indeed, our daughter was christened in a church service where there was maybe 10 or 12 Westerners and 5 or 6 faithful Chinese who were permitted in what used to be the YMCA to have this Sunday service, mainly for diplomats, you see. Now, that was in 1975 that she was christened there. In 1989 I went back there as President of the United States. The church had moved even. Now it was in what they call a hutong, an alley. But it moved into an even bigger building. There was close to 1,000 people in it. The choir had vestments. They were able to have hymn books. And the Bible was read from. And the message that I got from all of this is not that there's freedom of worship in China yet -- there's not -- but that it is moving. The family has never been weakened in China; it's always been strong. A totalitarian state can't stamp that out, and that faith can't be crushed by a state doctrine. It can't be crushed by it. And you're beginning to see more expressions of worship there. And I am absolutely convinced it's going to continue. And you see it in the Soviet Union.

So, what molds you together in the community, your family and your faith, is something that transcends -- my point is: It transcends liberal-conservative, Republican-Democrat, American-Soviet. I mean, it is there, and it is strong. And maybe it's what you said, sir: We've got to keep talking about values, and hopefully, that will help the enforcement end and the education end and the interdiction and all these kinds of things that we have to continue to do on the drug fight.

But that China thing -- every family has experienced something that sticks in their hearts. And this one is something that -- I tell you, when I got up to speak there, I was all choked up. They welcomed me back, and they said, "How is our sister, Dorothy?" -- that's our daughter who was baptized in that faith. And it was a great lesson for me: the strength of faith. Somehow it just keeps coming up.

Amish Leader. We appreciate that feeling for our leader of the country.

The President. Well, thank you all.

Attorney General Thornburgh. Mr. President, my fellow Pennsylvanians and I have a sentiment that I think they would permit me to share with you during your visit. Astan un freund [You've got a friend] in Pennsylvania.

The President. I understand that. I studied German I, II in school. But "You have a friend in Pennsylvania." [Laughter]

Amish Leader. A lot of friends in Pennsylvania.

The President. Thank you all for taking the time.

Mennonite Leader. Say "hello" to the Fletcher family. They came -- my parents -- one that's the head of the shuttle.

The President. Oh, Jim Fletcher.

Amish Leader. Make a greeting to Mrs. Bush.

The President. Well, she is working hard, and she's into -- works a lot with the Secretary on literacy. Learned a lot from him, and now she is continuing her interest in literacy because, again, it gets down to how you appreciate these things. When you can't read, it's pretty hard to -- --

Mennonite Leader. We want to appreciate our government more than we ever did because of your interest.

The President. Well, we want to give you something to be proud of. We want to set examples where we can. We've talked about some of the problem areas, but we're living in tough fiscal times and all of that. I think we're in optimistic times in terms of peace. If we can keep ourselves vigilant, I think we have a good chance now, with the changes in the Pacific, but in the Soviet Union -- that if we find a way to move properly, I think we could ensure the kid you were talking about and the other seven a more peaceful future. And that, of course, a President has to be thinking about.

Mennonite Leader. God bless you, those in the family. The family that prays together stays together.

The President. That's right.

Mennonite Leader. We want to keep that theme, "In God We Trust," which is stamped on our money.

The President. It's staying there. Nobody can knock that off. And I very openly advocated the fact of prayer in the schools. And it's got to be voluntary so some minority kid doesn't feel discriminated against. It's got to be obviously nondictated by the state. But I am not going to change my mind about it. I'm absolutely convinced that it is right. It drives political opponents right up the wall. They just don't understand it, but I feel strongly about it -- end of speech. Thank you all.

Note: The President spoke at 10 a.m. in the meeting room at Penn Johns Elementary School. In his opening remarks, he referred to Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. Following his remarks, the President traveled to Wilmington, DE.

George Bush, Remarks at a Meeting With Amish and Mennonite Leaders in Lancaster, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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