Thank you, President Falwell and David. Thank you very much for inviting my wife, Jane, and me to be with you even this morning. We appreciate the invitation very much.
And let me start off by acknowledging what I think all of you already know. And that is the views that many here at Liberty University have and I, on a number of important issues, are very, very different. I believe in a woman's rights….
And the right of a woman to control her own body.
I believe gay rights and gay marriage.
Those are my views, and it is no secret. But I came here today, because I believe from the bottom of my heart that it is vitally important for those of us who hold different views to be able to engage in a civil discourse.
Too often in our country—and I think both sides bear responsibility for us—there is too much shouting at each other. There is too much making fun of each other.
Now, in my view, and I say this as somebody whose voice is hoarse, because I have given dozens of speeches in the last few months, it is easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you. I was in Greensboro, North Carolina, just last night. All right. We had 9,000 people out. Mostly they agreed with me. Tonight, we're going to be in Manassas, and have thousands out and they agree with me. That's not hard to do. That's what politicians by and large do.
We go out and we talk to people who agree with us.
But it is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.
And it is important to see where if possible, and I do believe it is possible, we can find common ground.
Now, Liberty University is a religious school, obviously.
And all of you are proud of that.
You are a school which, as all of us in our own way, tries to understand the meaning of morality. What does it mean to live a moral life? And you try to understand, in this very complicated modern world that we live in, what the words of the Bible mean in today's society.
You are a school which tries to teach its students how to behave with decency and with honesty and how you can best relate to your fellow human beings, and I applaud you for trying to achieve those goals.
Let me take a moment, or a few moments, to tell you what motivates me in the work that I do as a public servant, as a senator from the state of Vermont. And let me tell you that it goes without saying, I am far, far from being a perfect human being, but I am motivated by a vision, which exists in all of the great religions, in Christianity, in Judaism, in Islam and Buddhism, and other religions.
And that vision is so beautifully and clearly stated in Matthew 7:12, and it states, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them to do to you, for this sums up the war and the prophets." That is the golden rule. Do unto others, what you would have them do to you. That is the golden rule, and it is not very complicated.
Let me be frank, as I said a moment ago. I understand that the issues of abortion and gay marriage are issues that you feel very strongly about. We disagree on those issues. I get that, but let me respectfully suggest that there are other issues out there that are of enormous consequence to our country and in fact to the entire world, that maybe, just maybe, we do not disagree on and maybe, just maybe, we can try to work together to resolve them.
Amos 5:24, "But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream." Justice treating others the way we want to be treated, treating all people, no matter their race, their color, their stature in life, with respect and with dignity.
Now here is my point. Some of you may agree with me, and some of you may not, but in my view, it would be hard for anyone in this room today to make the case that the United States of America, our great country, a country which all of us love, it would be hard to make the case that we are a just society, or anything resembling a just society today.
In the United States of America today, there is massive injustice in terms of income and wealth inequality. Injustice is rampant. We live, and I hope all of you know this, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world.
But most Americans don't know that. Because almost all of that wealth and income is going to the top 1 percent.
You know, that is the truth. We are living in a time—and I warn all of you if you would, put this in the context of the Bible, not me, in the context of the Bible—we are living in a time where a handful of people have wealth beyond comprehension. And I'm talking about tens of billions of dollars, enough to support their families for thousands of years. With huge yachts, and jet planes and tens of billions. More money than they would ever know what to do with.
But at that very same moment, there are millions of people in our country, let alone the rest of the world, who are struggling to feed their families. They are struggling to put a roof over their heads, and some of them are sleeping out on the streets. They are struggling to find money in order to go to a doctor when they are sick.
Now, when we talk about morality, and when we talk about justice, we have to, in my view, understand that there is no justice when so few have so much and so many have so little.
There is no justice, and I want you to hear this clearly, when the top one-tenth of 1 percent—not 1 percent, the top one-tenth of 1 percent—today in America owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. And in your hearts, you will have to determine the morality of that, and the justice of that.
In my view, there is no justice, when here, in Virginia and Vermont and all over this country, millions of people are working long hours for abysmally low wages of $7.25 an hour, of $8 an hour, of $9 an hour, working hard, but unable to bring in enough money to adequately feed their kids.
And yet, at that same time, 58 percent of all new income generated is going to the top 1 percent. You have got to think about the morality of that, the justice of that, and whether or not that is what we want to see in our country.
In my view, there is no justice when, in recent years, we have seen a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires, while at the same time the United States of America has the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country on Earth. How can we? I want you to go into your hearts, how can we talk about morality, about justice, when we turn our backs on the children of our country?
Now you have got to think about it. You have to think about it and you have to feel it in your guts. Are you content? Do you think it's moral when 20 percent of the children in this country, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, are living in poverty? Do you think it is acceptable that 40 percent of African American children are living in poverty?
In my view, there is no justice, and morality suffers when in our wealthy country, millions of children go to bed hungry. That is not morality and that is not in my view … what America should be about.
In my view, there is no justice when the 15 wealthiest people in this country in the last two years—two years—saw their wealth increase by $170 billion. Two years. The wealthiest 15 people in this country saw their wealth increase by $170 billion.
My friends, that is more wealth acquired in a two-year period than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans. And while the very, very rich become much richer, millions of families have no savings at all. Nothing in the bank. And they worry every single day that if their car breaks down, they cannot get to work, and if they cannot get to work, they lose their jobs.
And if they lose their jobs, they do not feed their family. In the last two years, 15 people saw $170 billion increase in their wealth, 45 million Americans live in poverty. That in my view is not justice. That is a rigged economy, designed by the wealthiest people in this country to benefit the wealthiest people in this country at the expense of everybody else.
In my view, there is no justice when thousands of Americans die every single year because they do not have any health insurance and do not go to a doctor when they should. I have talked personally to doctors throughout Vermont and physicians around the country. And without exception, they tell me there are times when patients walk into their office very, very sick and they say, why didn't you come in here when you're sick? And the answer is, I do not have any health insurance or I have a high deductible or I thought the problem would get better. And sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes they die because they lack health insurance.
That is not justice. That is not morality. People should not be dying in the United States of America when they are sick.
What that is, is an indication that we are the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care to all people as a right, and I think we should change that.
And I think—I think that when we talk about morality, what we are talking about is all of God's children. The poor, the wretched, they have a right to go to a doctor when they are sick.
You know, there is a lot of talk in this country from politicians about family values. You have all heard that. Well, let me tell you about a family value.
In my view, there is no justice when low income and working class mothers are forced to separate from their babies one or two weeks after birth and go back to work because they need the money that their jobs provide. Now I know everybody here—we all are, maybe in different ways, but all of us believe in family values.
Jane and I have four kids. We have seven beautiful grandchildren. We believe in family values. But it is not a family value when all of you know that the most important moments and time of a human being's life is the first weeks and months after that baby is born. That is the moment when mothers bonds with the baby; gets to love and know her baby—dad is there as well. That is what a family is about. And those of you—at least those of you who are parents—more parents back here than there I suspect. You know what an unforgettable moment that is. What an important moment that is. And I want you to think, whether you believe it is a family value, that the United States of America is the only—only—major country on earth that does not provide paid family and medical leave.
Now in English, what that means is that all over the world when a woman has her baby she is guaranteed the right because society understands how important that moment is. She is guaranteed the right to stay home and get income in order to nurture her baby. And that is why I believe when we talk about family values that the United States government must provide at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.
In my view there is no justice in our country when youth unemployment exists at tragically high levels. I requested a study last month from a group of economists. And what they told me is that 51 percent of African American high school graduates between the ages of 17 and 20 are unemployed or underemployed—51 percent.
We have in this country sufficient amounts of money to put more people in jail than any other country on earth. The United States has more people in jail than China; a communist authoritarian country.
But apparently we do not have enough money to provide jobs and education to our young people. I believe that's wrong.
I am not a theologian, I am not an expert on the Bible, nor am I a Catholic. I am just a United States senator from the small state of Vermont. But I agree with Pope Francis, who will soon be coming to visit us in the United States.
I agree with Pope Francis when he says, and I quote, "The current financial crisis originated in a profound human crisis, the denial of the primacy of the human person," and this is what he writes: "We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose," end of quote.
And the pope also writes, quote, "There is a need for financial reform along ethical lines that would produce in its turn an economic reform to benefit everyone. Money has to serve, not to rule," end of quote.
Now those are pretty profound words, which I hope we will all think about. In the pope's view, and I agree with him, we are living in a nation and in a world, and the Bible speaks to this issue, in a nation and in a world which worships not love of brothers and sisters, not love of the poor and the sick, but worships the acquisition of money and great wealth. I do not believe that is the country we should be living in.
Money and wealth should serve the people. The people should not have to serve money and wealth. (APPLAUSE)
Throughout human history, there has been endless discussion. It is part of who we are as human beings, people who think and ask questions, endless discussion and debate about the meaning of justice and about the meaning of morality. And I know that here at Liberty University, those are the kinds of discussions you have every day, and those are the kinds of discussions you should be having and the kinds of discussions we should be having all over America.
I would hope, and I conclude with this thought, I would hope very much that as part of that discussion and part of that learning process, some of you will conclude that if we are honest in striving to be a moral and just society, it is imperative that we have the courage to stand with the poor, to stand with working people and when necessary, take on very powerful and wealthy people whose greed, in my view, is doing this country enormous harm.
Thank you all very much.