Classroom Activities

  1. How would you define moral values? Compare and contrast your definition with the values Reagan articulates in his speech.
  2. Listen to Reagan’s speech at: How did Reagan’s delivery of the speech and the reactions of his audience impact the speech? Did you notice the laughter from the audience? Did you laugh at anything in the speech?  How did your class react differently to the speech than Reagan’s actual audience? Did the speech hold your classes’ attention?  How might you explain any differences between the audience’s reactions and the reactions of your class?
  3. What were your thoughts and opinions about Reagan before reading this speech? Did his rhetoric influence your views on Reagan? If so, how did your views change?
  4. What were Reagan’s goals in this speech? Do you think he attained these goals? Why or why not?
  5. Reagan used many religious appeals. How did his statements coincide with biblical teachings? What are the potential benefits and dangers of using such religious arguments in the public square?
  6. What do you think are Reagan’s main arguments? What evidence does he provide to support those arguments? Did you find his arguments convincing?
  7. Why did Reagan oppose the so-called nuclear freeze?Was he right to be skeptical of détente and unilateral reductions in nuclear weapons?  Do you think he had good philosophical and moral justifications for his attitudes toward the Soviet Union and arms control?

Student Research

  1. Examine Reagan’s speech and also look at newspaper articles and editorials that covered the speech. If you were a reporter at this time, how would you respond to Reagan’s speech? In a news story, what would be your headline? If you were to write an editorial or opinion piece on the speech, what would you say?
  2. Examine one or two speeches on U.S.-Soviet relations by other presidents during the Cold War. How was Reagan’s rhetoric different from the rhetoric of past presidents, like Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, or Nixon? What views or attitudes did he share with those other presidents?
  3. Go to, select “cases” from the drop-down menu at the top of the page, and search for “moral” in the keyword search bar next to that menu. Examine some of the court cases. What sorts of “moral” issues has the court addressed? How has the court determined “morality” in such cases?
  4. Reagan was against a nuclear freeze. Research the proposal for a nuclear freeze and discuss the pros and cons of the proposal, as described by its proponents and opponents.
  5. Research public attitudes toward communism in America in the 1980s. What were people’s views towards communism? Do you believe most people shared Reagan’s uncompromising attitude toward communism? How was Reagan’s harsh rhetoric toward the Soviets received by the American people? Do you think that rhetoric was consistent with his pledge to negotiate arms reductions with the Soviets?
  6. What role has the National Association of Evangelicals played in American politics? Research the NAE. Why do you think Reagan choose this group as the audience for this particular speech?
  7. Go to and download the mp3 file of Reagan’s speech. Listen to it first without looking at the written text.  Which do you think is the better version of the speech: the written text or the delivery?  Why?
  8. Pundits, editorial page writers, and even historians harshly criticized Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech immediately after it was delivered. Why do you think the speech was so negatively received at the time?What were the major criticisms of the speech in the responses you studied?
  9. Reagan invoked the notion of America as a chosen nation of God, as a “city on the hill.”Using Internet and library resources, investigate whether and how other American politicians and presidents have invoked such notions.  Have other presidents described America as “chosen” by God, “a city on the hill,” or “holy”?  Are there any differences between how other leaders have used such terms and the way Reagan used them?
  10. In his first State of the Union address following September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush gave a speech to Congress that soon became known as the “Axis of Evil” speech. After reading, and if possible, viewing or listening to both Reagan’s speech and Bush’s speech, consider these questions: How did each speech use the term “evil”? Did they mean the same or different things in the use of the term?  Is the concept of “evil” equally central to the message of both speeches?
  11. Compare newspaper coverage of Reagan’s “Evil Empire” and Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speeches. How did news and editorial reactions to the two speeches compare? Do you agree with the interpretive essay that immediate reactions to Reagan’s speech were largely negative?  Can the same be said about reactions to Bush’s speech?

Citizenship Resources

  1. Attend a political rally for a state or national political candidate. Listen to their rhetoric carefully. Do they couch their arguments in such moral terms?  If possible, ask the candidate about their opinion on the use of moral arguments and the notion of evil in public discourse.
  2. Reagan was heavily criticized for his speech against the “evil empire’ of the Soviet Union, yet today many regard him as a great president and as the president who “won” the Cold War. George W. Bush also has been criticized for his speeches characterizing America’s enemies in the War on Terror as “evil.” Consider the validity of using the term “evil” in the public square. Write a letter to a public official offering your thoughts on this issue.
  3. Interview a parent or grandparents about how communism affected their lives. Also ask about how, if at all, their moral values have changed since they were young. Be prepared to share their responses with the class.
  4. Reagan expressed concern about a number of “moral” issues in the United States, such as abortion and prayer in the public schools. How have things changed regarding these issues since Reagan’s presidency?Do you think the president of the United States ought to speak out on such “moral” issues?  What are (or should be) the moral principles that govern U.S. foreign and domestic policies? Contact several spiritual leaders in your community from a variety of religions and denominations (by e-mail, phone, or in person).  Politely ask them if they would be willing to identify the moral issues facing the nation and how they envision the role the president and government in addressing them.
  5. Is it legitimate for U.S. political leaders to invoke religious rhetoric in the public sphere? Should public officials use language from the Bible or the Koran or any other religious text in crafting and delivering speeches to the American public on political issues? When political leaders do use such language, are they violating the constitutional separation of church and state? Identify a current issue where religion is having an impact on the public sphere.  Go to and, using the search function, type in “religion.”  Examine the various contemporary issues being dealt with by the courts and the government on this issue.  Locate various interest groups currently engaging such issues such as the ACLU (, the Center for Public Justice (, or the Ethics and Public Policy Center (  Investigate these organizations and find one that best mirrors your approach to the subject. Write a letter to a public official encouraging them to consider contacting this organization and making them aware of their efforts.
  6. America’s Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union, was often described as “atheistic,” while America’s enemy at the beginning of the twenty-first century has been described by some as “Islamic fascism.” What difference, if any, is there between these two “enemies of freedom?” Does it make sense to describe both as “immoral” or “evil,” even though the former allegedly lacked faith in any God, while the latter is allegedly motivated by an excess of religious zeal?  After considering this question, write a letter to the editor of a newspaper or magazine outlining your views.

Last updated May 12, 2016