Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Today’s Time for Choosing

Will Thetford /

Photo: Newscom

Photo: Newscom

In 1964 Ronald Reagan delivered one of his most famous speeches, “A Time for Choosing.” Like Reagan, Americans of our day must take care to address over-taxation, uninhibited government debt and spending, and a welfare system that often traps the poor in poverty.

But we also face new challenges.

In 1964, respect for unborn life, religious liberty, and the family centered on marriage were secure and protected by law; today the Obamacare HHS Mandate coerces employers to pay for abortion-inducing drugs against their religious convictions and the very foundation of family is in dispute.

Today’s debates go straight to the core American principles of the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Ryan T. Anderson, the William E. Simon Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, recently made this argument at Regent University’s Ronald Reagan Symposium celebrating the 50th anniversary of Reagan’s famous 1964 speech. The Heritage Foundation has just published Anderson’s remarks, and you can also watch them here.


Sadly, today’s laws regarding life do not reflect Reagan’s admonition to understand unalienable rights as more than mere gifts of the state and capable of being altered or withdrawn.

Anderson explains:

The right to life is not only for the strong and powerful, the rich and famous, but for all human beings, including the weak, marginalized, and infirm—wanted or unwanted, born or unborn. Redefining who is included in the community of rights-bearing individuals so as to exclude the unborn does exactly what Reagan rejected: It considers rights ‘to be a dispensation of government.’


In Reagan’s day liberty, especially religious liberty, was vigorously defended and highly valued, however:

Today, by comparison, the government claims it can force employers and individuals to pay for coverage of abortion-inducing drugs. Government has shut down Christian adoption agencies that want to find homes for orphans with married moms and dads. And state governments have tried to coerce Christian photographers, florists, and bakers to celebrate same-sex relationships as marriages.

Pursuit of Happiness

Anderson notes that today even the family, indispensable to nurturing children into happy and healthy adults, is undermined by policy:

Marriage, the fundamental institution of civil society, remains the best protector of the rights of children to pursue happiness. So now, with respect to the very definition of marriage, we are faced with a new time for choosing.

This is indeed a time for choosing. Whether our aim is freedom, limited government or social justice, these goals are undermined when the family is weak. Likewise, these principles cannot be separated from foundational protections of life, religious liberty, and family.

Read Anderson’s full remarks here.