In speeches over the past few months, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both used
the phrase "freedom of worship," rather than the more common phrase "freedom of religion," found in the First Amendment. Some religious conservatives are raising concerns about what this change in terminology could mean for domestic and foreign policy.
- I first read about this issue in a blogpost by Sheila Liaugminas.
- Christianity Today has a piece "Freedom
of Worship" Worries, by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra.
- Ashley Samelson wrote Why "Freedom of Worship" Is Not Enough in First Things back in February.
Short a much broader analysis of administration speeches and reports,
I have no way of knowing if this language change is widespread or is
simply a quote from a few speeches cherry-picked by administration
critics to make a political point. Nonetheless, the phrase has found its way into speeches, and could reflect a significant change in perspective for the Obama administration.
From Ms. Samelson's piece:
Any person of faith knows that religious exercise
is about a lot more than freedom of worship. It’s about the right to
dress according to one’s religious dictates, to preach openly, to
evangelize, to engage in the public square. Everyone knows that
religious Jews keep kosher, religious Quakers don’t go to war, and
religious Muslim women wear headscarves—yet “freedom of worship” would
protect none of these acts of faith.
I don't share the Orwellian fears held by Chuck Colson (in a disturbing, anti-homosexual, leaping-to-conclusions video here) and others that this change of terminology reflects a clear intent by a liberal government to quash religious freedom and eradicate religion from the public square. But I do believe that words are important, and that if this change is more than mere semantics, it could have a significant impact in how our government, through both foreign and domestic policy, engages matters related to the personal and corporate religious practices of people worldwide.
As someone who believes that the practice of religion extends far beyond the act of worship, I'd be concerned if the administration is making a policy change in favor of "freedom of worship" rather than the broader, Constitutional, and much more comprehensive "freedom of religion."
3 thoughts on “Freedom of Religion vs. Freedom of Worship”
I have not read Ms. Samelson’s piece, only the quote you excerpted from it. Preaching, evangelizing and engaging the public square are examples of free speech. Wearing distinctive clothing, keeping kosher, and even refusing to participate in military service are arguably forms of “worship.”
What I see here is not a concerted effort by a liberal government to limit religious freedom. That very idea is self-contradictory. What I see is fear mongering on the part of conservative opponents.
Fear is a powerful motivator. It keeps the troops on alert.
Googling the issue, I see that in 2009, Secretary Clinton made an important speech about how freedom of religion and freedom of speech are in tension with one another and must be, and how freedom of speech must be allowed free rein, even to offend others’ religion. It may be that this new nomenclature is being used in order to keep that distinction, so as not to allow those who believe freedom of religion requires others to give up their freedom of speech (a la Danish cartoons) to use her words against her.
In his Memorial and Remonstrance, which became the most important argument in favor of the First Amendment, Madison says, “The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator.” The argument is FIRST about religion and later about worship. Madison’s (and Jefferson’s) concern was the exercise of religion, not merely the style of worship.
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