‘Freedom of Religion’ vs. ‘Freedom of Worship’

What’s the difference between ‘Freedom of Religion’ and ‘Freedom of Worship’? I have heard some politicians use the words interchangeably.

A lot!

In the last several years, progressive politicians, including former President Obama, have referred to ‘Freedom of Worship’ as being guaranteed by the Constitution rather than the traditional term- ‘Freedom of Religion.’

Freedom of Religion

‘Freedom of Religion’ is defined in the First Amendment of the US Constitution and has allowed for the ‘free exercise of religion’ in all aspects of American society unabated for over 200 years. Also, Article VI in The Constitution specifies that there should be ‘no religious test’ when it comes to qualifications for public office.

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. We are seeing that freedom increasingly challenged in this generation.

Then during the Obama administration, the former president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began using the term- ‘Freedom of Worship’ which is supported by a number of United Nations declarations, the European Union, China, and most Islamic Countries. But it is far different, and far weaker and limited in supported rights than the traditional ‘Freedom of Religion’ which is prescribed by our Constitution.

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

The term: ‘Freedom of Worship’ is far more limited in its scope and supports the freedom of religion only within the four-walls of 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.

During the ‘cold war’ the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe claimed to have so-called ‘Freedom of Worship.’  Christians in those countries were only free to worship in official state churches and forbidden to worship in the home or teach their own 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 still illegal, were tolerated for a while, but now once again are subject to persecution by the authorities.

Some 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. 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 their belief that Jesus Christ is greater than Muhammad. Yet they claim to have ‘Freedom of Worship.’

Now, the United Nations and the European Union has adopted the term: ‘Freedom of Worship’ in their documents. In the case of the EU it is not clear how religious rights will be preserved in their member nations. Though incredibly it seems that Muslims have been given far greater freedom to practice their religion including an unofficially enforced sharia law in some locations. In the UK, which is currently not part of the EU economically, street preachers have been arrested for preaching some of Bible passages against homosexuality. So one wonders what type of religious freedom will be supported in Europe in the future..


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.

Former President Obama has a law degree and has taught Constitutional Law. There is no doubt that he was 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 Obama administration was hoping to push the USA towards implementing a more ‘global’ and European understanding of religious freedom.

Some liberal American law schools are supporting a change in religious freedom in the USA by re-defining the meaning of the 1st Amendment to merely ‘Freedom of Worship.’ Many progressives view religion, particularly the Christian religion as standing in the way of ‘progress’ and the hope for global government.

Fortunately, we still have a more conservative US Supreme Court that supports the ‘Freedom of Religion’ most of the time and continues to believe in the original understanding of the Constitution.

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