Freedom of religion, guaranteed by the first amendment, is the right to choose religious practices or to abstain from any without government intervention. Freedom to worship is only one part of freedom of religion. In simple terms, freedom of religion allows us to “practice” the freedom to worship. Freedom of religion and freedom of worship have been used interchangably for decades, but things are changing.
“The war on terror”, for example, is being changed to “overseas contingency operations” and the term “freedom of religion” is being replaced with a new choice phrase, “freedom of worship” . Hillary Clinton’s speech at Georgetown University included the use of freedom of worship three times and didn’t use freedom of religion once.
In President Obama’s speech in Tokyo he said, “The longing for liberty and dignity is a part of the story of all peoples. For there are certain aspirations that human beings hold in common: the freedom to speak your mind, and choose your leaders; the ability to access information, and worship how you please.”
Freedom of worship is only one part of religious expression, but President Obama and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton have on several occasions used the phrase ‘freedom of worship’ in their speeches instead of ‘freedom of religion. Randy Sly, in Obama Moves Away from ‘Freedom of Religion’ Toward Freedom of Worship, 7/19/10, states “Since the initially strong language on religious freedom used in President Obama’s Cairo speech, presidential references to religious freedom have become rare, often replaced, at most, with references to freedom of worship”. Does a purposeful change in language mean a much narrower view of the right to religious freedom?
As with most politicians, both President Obama and Hillary Clinton are calculated in their speeches. If they are purposely changing “freedom of religion” to “freedom of worship”, you could probably conclude that it isn’t just a “play” on words. Perhaps it could just be a “trendy” thing to say. Or, it just might be that their words are intentional. Michelle Boorstein, religion reporter for the Washington Post, notes that “Knox Thames, director of the U. S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – a Congress-controlled body tasked with monitoring religious freedom abroad – spoke at a recent briefing about the worry, reportedly saying he sees a change in lingo and that it’s not an accident.”
Government-sanctioned freedom of worship limits people of faith to worshiping in the privacy of their church, synagogue or home. History illustrates that a long secular trend always leads to authoritarian government and in some extreme examples to despotism.
Tony Beam, Interim Pastor for Mountain Creek Baptist church in Greenville, South Carolina,says “The government can grant me freedom to worship but without freedom of religion that same government can prohibit me from sharing my faith with my neighbor.” By doing this, the government is laying the groundwork for censuring religious expression in the public square.
With worship tucked away from public view within the confines of the church, thought and expression become supressed. All previous presidents before Obama have spoken openly and often about the freedom of religion that is provided by God and protected by the rule of law.
If we lose freedom of religion, our first amendment will be dismantled. As historian Roland Barton recognizes: “All freedoms hang together. Civil liberties scarcely thrive when religious liberties are disregarded, and the reverse is equally true.” That is why governmental attempts to diminish our religious freedoms are so dangerous.
In an article for “First Things” magazine, Ashley Samelson, International Programs Director for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, stated, “Everyone knows that religious Jews keep kosher, religious Quakers don’t go to war, and religioius Muslim women wear headscarves – yet freedom of worship (alone) would protect none of these acts of faith.”
Human rights lawyer and Senior Scholar at the Hudson Institute, Nina Shea, says, “I’m very fearful that by building bridges, we’re actually stepping away from this fundamental principle of religious freedom. It is so critical for Western, especially American, leaders to articulate strong defense for religious freedom and explain what that means and how it undergirds our entire civilization.”
Is the purpose of this watered-down version of freedom a subtle attempt to remove our abilities to evangelize, or maintain our religious rights in the normal discourse of life?
Bill Tammeus, former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star, suggests in his column, Do These Words Matter – 7/30/2010, to just monitor the situation and see if there is really any cause for alarm.
But it is easy to get distracted, so vigilance should be maintained. These seemingly small changes can be used to change our perception of our rights and freedoms. George Washington is credited with saying, “Let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.”