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 Home > Mrs. Cheney

November 13, 2001
Washington, D.C.

Remarks of Lynne V. Cheney
ADL Dinner in Honor of Robert Pritzker

(as prepared)

I’m delighted to be here tonight at a disclosed location. It is a particular pleasure to join in honoring Bob Pritzker, who has been a friend of my husband’s and mine for many years.

To bring honor to Bob is an especially gratifying thing to do since he is that rarest of types--a modest man with absolutely nothing to be modest about. Our President has made a point of emphasizing the importance of modesty and humility in public and private life. It is a lesson Bob Pritzker has been teaching throughout his career.

Bob’s career can be summed up in this term: Dot-com-NOT. He is first and foremost an engineer and a manufacturer--someone who actually makes things people need, and he has been doing that for more than fifty years. His skill and steady judgment have prevailed through many a business fad--building a great commercial enterprise, providing hundreds of thousands of jobs, and contributing enormously to America’s industrial might.

Bob is also a man of culture, learning, and exquisite taste. His closest friends include eminent scholars, artists, musicians, and statesmen, and more than one Nobel Laureate. Music-on-hold at the Marmon Group is his personal collection of jazz and swing. If you’re in the mood for some great music, just call his office and ask Becky to put you on hold.

He is an energetic and discerning philanthropist--especially toward his beloved Illinois Institute of Technology. In his personal character, his deeds, and his contributions to building a better America, Bob Pritzker is an inspiring embodiment of the values of the Anti-Defamation League.

The extraordinary times in which we are living has turned my mind to history, and it occurred to me repeatedly as I thought about what to say tonight, how central to our nation’s story are the values of the ADL. The founders of our country wanted to secure, as Jefferson put it, “certain inalienable rights,” among them “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” America’s history is an account of how more and more of us have been able fully to enjoy those rights.

Beginning with the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery; the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote; and extending to the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Voting Rights Act of 1965; and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, ever increasing numbers of us, no matter our race, religion, gender or physical abilities have been able to live freely, to pursue our dreams, and to contribute to our beloved country.

A few months ago, I was at Camp David with my husband and came across a book about Medal of Honor recipients. There are so many stories of heroism, of men throwing themselves on grenades or exposing themselves to enemy fire to save those near them, of brave individuals going to extraordinary lengths to make sure that the Stars and Stripes will ever continue to wave. The honor role of heroes is in the thousands now, but reading through it is a reminder that we are not only a society in which the concept of freedom has become ever more inclusive, we are a nation that has depended on the valor of Americans whose forebears came from every part of the world. John Ortega, Joshua Chamberlain, Abraham Cohn, Daniel Inouye, Joseph Timothy O’Callahan, Joe Nishimoto, Mitchell Red Cloud, Jr., Frank Mitchell, Riley Pitts, Roy Benavidez, Jack Jacobs, Gary Gordon, Randall Shughart. Valor knows no race, no religion, no national origin, as the honor roll of American heroes so movingly demonstrates.

Your organization, by fighting anti-Semitism and bigotry wherever they occur, has helped create and perpetuate the freedom of each of us to live our lives as we wish and to serve this land we love.

You have also been staunch proponents of the idea that the government has no role in religious matters. This idea was especially important to the founders of our country. Jefferson, as you know, wanted to be remembered for three things, that he had been author of the Declaration of Independence, author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia. Now this was a man who had been the nation’s first Secretary of State and her third President. Why would he not put those on the list first? Why was being author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom more important to him than having been President?

The explanation lies in the fact that Jefferson had seen first-hand the pernicious effects of government-prescribed belief. He was determined that it would not be part of the new order of things, as was James Madison, who saw to it that the Statute for Religious Freedom was approved by the Virginia Assembly. Madison also carried through the Congress of the United States the Bill of Rights, which established freedom of religion as the Constitution’s First Amendment.

What both Madison and Jefferson understood is that religious freedom meant that people were free not only to worship as they wished, but to form their own opinions on all manner of things. The Virginia Statute, Madison said, “extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making laws for the human mind.” The issue was not only religious freedom, but intellectual freedom. “Truth is great and will prevail if left to herself,” the Virginia statute reads. “She is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition [she is] disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate.”

Anyone who tries to account for the remarkable creativity of this country needs to consider the forces set in motion when the United States of America decreed that the government could not tell people what to believe or what to think. The freeing up of individual energy and ideas that has resulted has been unparalleled in human history. Try to imagine Thomas Edison or Steven Spielberg or Jack Welch or Bob Pritzker in an oppressive society. It’s inconceivable that they would flourish. The fact that invention and entertainment and business have prospered so remarkably is proof of the power of our ideas.

We are now locked in battle with a foe who hates our ideas, who hates the notion that individuals should be free to chart their own way. “Like the fascists and totalitarians before them,” the President has said, “these terrorists--al Qaeda, the Taliban regime that supports them, and other terror groups across our world--try to impose their radical views through threats and violence. We see the same intolerance of dissent; the same mad, global ambitions; the same brutal determination to control every life and all of life.”

We are defending freedom in this war in which we are engaged. There is no doubt about that. And as we fight for our ideals, it is essential that we continue to live by them, and I applaud this organization for its continued insistence on this. While we defend ourselves against an enemy who hates Jews and Christians, we must, as the President and the ADL have stressed repeatedly, make sure that all Muslims are not blamed for the actions of a fanatic few. Indeed, we should emphasize repeatedly, as so many Muslim clerics have, that the despicable actions of the terrorists do not represent Islam but a hateful perversion of it.

This is a message that rings true for most Americans. Just yesterday there was a story in the paper about restaurant owners in my home state of Wyoming, a husband and wife, the Assems, who moved to Cheyenne from Egypt some twenty years ago. After September 11th, they began to receive harassing phone calls and considered abandoning their restaurant. But then the community found out what was happening, and there was an outpouring of support, including a visit from the governor and his wife. The Assems, realizing how the vast majority of their neighbors feel, have decided to stay.

The terrorists have made war on us not for our flaws but for our freedoms, for our virtues. And to prevail against them, as we will, we need to respond not only with military might, but with continual reassertion of our ideas and ideals. I thank the Anti-Defamation League for being in the forefront of this effort and thank you, too, for recognizing Bob Pritzker, an outstanding person and an outstanding American.