It may not have even caught your attention. It may not appear to be that different. But when people, especially the current president of the United States, intentionally replace the words "freedom of religion" with "freedom of worship," is it just a distinction without a difference, or is it a major change about which we need to be concerned?
In order to explain what amounts to tremendous differences between the two phrases, let me offer a recent example. In Colorado, a religious freedom amendment to the state constitution has been proposed that prohibits the government from "burden[ing] a person's or religious organization's freedom of religion" unless it shows a compelling interest – which offers the highest level of protection. In comparison, the U.S. Constitution prohibits Congress from "prohibiting the free exercise" of religion.
Compare that to the proposed language submitted by a far-left group which begins: "Religious freedom. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination, shall forever hereafter be guaranteed." Sounds okay, doesn't it? Or does it? Did you notice that freedom of religion quickly became religious worship? But there is more:
In assessing whether government has burdened freedom of religion, a person's or a religious organization's right to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief is the ability to engage in religious practices in the privacy of a person's home or in the privacy of a religious organization's established place of worship.
Did you get that? There is no government burden on a person's free exercise of religion at all unless that burden occurs at home or at church. Let that sink in for a moment and you'll begin to appreciate how radical a change this is.
Let's see what that change looks like when applied to Scripture. The Gospel of Mark says, "Go into [only homes and churches] and preach the good news to all creation." Proverbs promises that "a generous man will himself be blessed for he shares his food with the poor [only when in his home or church]." Let's not forget Jesus' instructions when sending out the twelve to "heal the sick [only when you find them at home or in church]." And although I can continue, I'll end with one last example, Jesus himself. What was Jesus thinking when he ministered to the masses by feeding thousands and healing many while in public?
Freedom of religion encompasses many beliefs and actions, obviously including worship. But this rhetorical shift of limiting freedom of religion to only worship embodies a dangerous ideology that is shared by the current administration. Ironically, the former Soviet Union – a self described atheistic country – allowed "freedom of worship" but not "freedom of religion." Not only have President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently repeatedly used the same "freedom of worship" rhetoric, but this administration has engaged in several other hostile actions that also show a disdain for the freedom of religion, including the following:
1. Requiring religious organizations to provide abortion-inducing drugs and contraceptives free of charge.
2. Requiring individuals to pay a surcharge to fund abortions.
3. Overturning HHS protections for religious health care workers not to be forced to participate in abortions.
4. Using a recess appointment to place radical homosexual activist Chai Feldblum as a commissioner on the EEOC-who recently stated that when religious liberty and sexual liberty conflict, she has "a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win."
5. Refusing to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.
6. Removing non-profit work that relates to "religious instruction" from the student loan forgiveness program.
7. Arguing recently at the Supreme Court that the government can interfere with the internal operations of religious organizations.
Religious freedom, our First Freedom, is part of what makes our country great. It allows us the freedom to practice our religion in the public square, not confined to home or church. But if the government takes away our right to practice our faith, whether by subtle shifts or by those that are more drastic, we forfeit what God has provided and what the Constitution has protected.
So the next time you see a shift in rhetoric, even if it appears slight at first glance, you may not want to brush it off so easily. Especially when it comes in prepared remarks by those who are very careful with their choice of words. We all need to stand up for freedom of religion to ensure that it is not whittled down to a nugget only tolerated in our own homes and churches (until they come knocking at those doors, too). I hear footsteps….