Freedom of Worship vs. Freedom of Religion

save_freedom_worship-43-NRThere is much ado lately about the few times in the past three years when President Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the phrase "freedom of worship" rather than "freedom of religion." The term was good enough for FDR to include in his Four Freedoms in a speech before Congress on January 6, 1941 - "the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way - anywhere in the world," as he wrote it himself. The same term is now Exhibit A for those prosecuting the charge that the Obama administration is set on subverting the freedom of religion.The case was made in 2010 atFirst Things:

Recently, both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have been caught using the phrase freedom of worship in prominent speeches, rather than the freedom of religion the President called for in Cairo.If the swap-out occurred only once or twice, one might appropriately conclude it was merely a rhetorical accident. However, both the President and his Secretary of State have now replaced freedom of religion with freedom of worship too many times to seem inadvertent.

Rick Santorum is in on it, too:

"When you have the president of the United States referring to the freedom of religion, and you have the secretary of State referring to the freedom of religion, not as the freedom of religion but the freedom of worship, you should get very nervous, very nervous," he told students at Hope College, a Reformed Church school.

"Because there's a lot of tyrants around the world who will talk about freedom of worship, but they won't talk about freedom of religion. Freedom of worship is what you do within the four walls of the church. Freedom of religion is what you do outside the four walls of the church. What the president is now seeming to mold, in the image of other elitists who think that they know best, is to limit the role of faith in the public square and your role to live that faith out in your public and private lives."

But a quick check of government Web sites finds that, in fact, the Obama administration continually uses the phrase "freedom of religion." For example, Clinton started off her remarks at a conference last December by speaking of the need to protect "two fundamental freedoms the right to practice ones religion freely and the right to express ones opinion without fear." That would seem to cover the territory, twice over.

She continued:

At the same time, as we strive to protect individuals from violence and discrimination because of their religion or their beliefs, we must also express the freedom of expression. Now, in the United States, we take that especially seriously because many of those who came to our country came for religious reasons. They came because they were being discriminated against or their religion was being outlawed. They started coming in the 17th century, and they still come all the way through the 21st century.

Well, how would one know that you were being discriminated against if you didnt have the right to freedom of expression? Your neighbor knows, well, that person is different from me because he or she believes differently. So the freedom of religion and the freedom of expression are absolutely bound up together [emphasis added].

One quickly finds steady use of the term "freedom of religion" on the White House Web site as well. "Our Nation's enduring commitment to the universal human right of religious freedom extends beyond our borders as we advocate for all who are denied the ability to choose and live their faith," President Obama said in a proclamation. " My Administration will continue to oppose growing trends in many parts of the world to restrict religious expression."There are many other examples - here and here and here and here and here and here and here and others. I could find only two references to "freedom of worship." Both paired the term with freedom of speech (as FDR also did).The terms "freedom of worship" and "freedom of religion" are often used interchangeably. There is a difference in meaning, but the effort to take a few remarks out of context and spin them into a massive conspiracy against civil rights - threatening enough to make us "get very nervous" - lacks a basis in reality.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

Please email comments to letters@commonwealmagazine.org and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads

Religion
Religion
Culture
Culture
Books
Collections
Collections