by Dr. D ~ July 19th, 2010
I have read several articles in the last couple of weeks pointing out that President Obama has stopped referring to ‘freedom of religion’ in his speeches and has begun to use the term ‘freedom of worship’ instead. What’s the difference?
Freedom of Religion
‘Freedom of Religion’ is defined in the US Constitution and has allowed for the ‘free exercise of religion’ in all aspects of American society unabated for over 200 years. Though we are seeing that freedom increasingly challenged in this generation.
America began with the concept that humans had certain rights given to them by their Creator and that the state should be limited in its power. Freedom of religion was one of those primary rights that the government was suppose to be forbidden to control. Lately some of those rights are being turned upside down including the right to publicly proclaim ones faith.
President Obama referred to the ‘freedom of religion’ in his speech last year in Cairo that was given for the benefit of the Muslim nations. Since then he has stopped using the term. Speculation has it that he was told that it was offensive to Muslims and that he should use the ‘freedom to worship’ designation instead since it is supported by the UN, the European Union, and most Islamic Countries.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom also noted that shift in language and raised a flag on it in its 2010 annual report:
“Because of the policy implications of using ‘freedom of worship’ language, USCIRF urges President Obama, Secretary Clinton and other high-ranking U.S. government officials to return to invoking or embracing ‘freedom of religion or belief’ or similar language in all public statements and stress the universal nature of these and other rights.”
“In doing so, they should also explicitly affirm their commitment to broad protection of the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief in all its manifestations.”
Freedom of Worship
‘Freedom of Worship’ is far more limited and supported by a number of United Nations declarations. Also many Muslim countries with ‘sharia’ law claim to have ‘freedom of worship’. It can mean nothing more than the right to pray to the god of your choice in your own home or in a designated place of worship. There is no right under the ‘freedom of worship’ to publicly proclaim ones faith or evangelize those who are of a different religion nor a right to publish or use broadcast media to support ones beliefs.
In many Muslim countries Christianity can only be taught in a church building and Christian worship is only allowed in the church yet those countries claim to have ‘freedom of worship’. Also in most Muslim dominated countries it is illegal for Christians to try to convert a Muslim. Not only that, but to ‘defame’ Islam or the prophet Muhammad is a capitol offense most places in the Middle East. Christians have been arrested, beaten, put in prison, and even killed for merely stating that Jesus Christ was greater than Muhammad.
During the ‘cold war’ the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe maintained a so-called ‘freedom of worship’. Christians were only free to worship in official state churches and forbidden to worship in the home or teach their children. No new churches were built during that time and thousands of Christians risked prison or greater by meeting together in house churches. This is still true in China today where house churches are more tolerated than they use to be but still illegal and subject to the whims of the authorities.
The use of the term- ‘freedom of worship’ seems rather innocent to most and interchangeable with ‘freedom of religion’ to the uninformed. But it clearly isn’t.
The President has a law degree and has taught Constitutional Law. There is no doubt that he is aware of the very different meanings of the two terms but has chosen for what ever reason to use the term ‘freedom of worship’ instead. Some believe that the choice could signal that the current administration would like to push the USA towards implementing a more ‘global’ and European understanding of religious freedom. *Top of the Blog
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- “Freedom of Religion” vs. “Freedom of Worship”? (geneveith.com)
- “Obama Moves away from ‘Freedom of Religion’ toward ‘Freedom of Worship’?” and related posts (illinoisreview.typepad.com)
- ‘Freedom to Worship’ is Not ‘Freedom of Religious Expression’ (dakotavoice.com)
- John W. Whitehead: Doing Away with the Right to Be Different: The Assault on Religious Freedom (huffingtonpost.com)