April 6, 1981
Let me just read a brief statement.
President Reagan has proclaimed May 1st as Law Day, U.S.A. The proclamation follows a 24-year tradition of annual reflection on the importance of rule of law in our society. And the theme this year is ``Law -- the Language of Liberty.'' This is especially appropriate for the first Law Day proclamation of a President whose eloquent articulation of the principles of individual liberty and freedom has been one of the hallmarks of his public service, public life.
The theme of law as the language of liberty calls to mind several points of particular current significance. One is the problem of violent crime. The rule of law represents the civil discourse of a free people. Violent crime is the uncivilized shout that threatens to drown out and ultimately silence the language of liberty. The events of last Monday were a tragic reminder as the violent act of one man sought tho hush the voice of the Nation as to who its leader would be. But no less tragic are the daily, less dramatic acts of violence inflicted upon our citizens by a criminal few.
Attorney General Smith has stated that reduction of violent crime is his number one priority, and under the direction of the President, he's established a task force to determine the ways that Federal, State, and local governments and officials can work together to fight violent crime. This work is vital if the language of liberty is to continue to be spoken in our land.
President Reagan's proclamation emphasizes our nation's great charters of freedom -- the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. These founding documents remind us that the language of liberty in America has a particularly rich heritage, but they tell us something else about law as the language of liberty. They are legal documents, but they are really much more than that. Their language is central, fundamental, inspiring, rather than narrow and technical and legalistic. These charters of freedom truly speak the language of liberty, a language addressed to free men and women who know its vocabulary, its tone, its emphasis, and its objectives. Its message is muted and distorted when law becomes too technical, too regulatory, too great an interference in the lives of free citizens. President Reagan's emphasis on our charters of freedom encourages each of us to redouble our efforts to make our laws consistent with the principles these great documents, the cardinal statement of our freedom, express.
And finally, the theme of law as the language of liberty underscores that the rule of law is the common language of free people. Our Founding Fathers knew that our freedoms depended, in the final analysis, on the virtue of the American people, people to whom the laws of civilized existence were second nature, whose instincts for decency provided the necessary forum in which the language of liberty could be spoken and heard by all. This is no less true today. Our laws cannot make us good and decent citizens and human beings. To the contrary, we must be a good and decent people if law is to survive.
President Reagan's proclamation of Law Day, U.S.A., 1981, refocuses our attention on this basic truth and calls each of us to strive to live and act in ways that will keep the language of liberty clear, not only for us but for generations of Americans yet unborn.
Thank you, Mr. Smith, and thank you, Mr. Attorney General and others.
Note: The Vice President spoke at 10:05 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. William R. Smith, president of the American Bar Association, Attorney General William French Smith, State attorneys general, Members of Congress, and administration officials were present at the ceremony.