Senator Rebukes DHS for Suggesting Freedom of Religion Is Only Freedom to Worship

U.S. Senator James Lankford, R-Okla., smiles after he was ceremonially sworn-in by Vice President Joseph Biden in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 6, 2015.
U.S. Senator James Lankford, R-Okla., smiles after he was ceremonially sworn-in by Vice President Joseph Biden in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 6, 2015. | (Photo: Reuters/Larry Downing)

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., is urging the Department of Homeland Security to change the wording on naturalization tests and study materials to promote "freedom of religion" instead of "freedom of worship," stating that "freedom of religion" is the right to exercise beliefs, while "freedom of worship" confines acting on beliefs to location.

Lankford, co-chair of the Congressional Prayer Caucus and former youth pastor, sent a Monday letter to secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, arguing that asking prospective citizens to identify "freedom of worship" rather than "freedom of religion" in question 51 of the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services civic test study materials contradicts the First Amendment, which James Madison introduced in his proposal of the Bill of Rights 226 years ago Monday.

"We are doing a great disservice to those seeking citizenship in this great country if we distort our history and fail to teach new citizens about the founding and constitutional principles of this nation," Lankford wrote in the letter. "How can your Department request that Congress create a new United States Citizenship Foundation when your own naturalization materials do not even accurately reflect the constitutional rights of American citizens?"

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"Our Constitution is clear— Americans have the freedom of religion. The naturalization tests and its corresponding materials must be equally clear," Lankford continued. "As such, I ask that you immediately change all documents that are part of the naturalization test, including the study materials, to correctly show that Americans have the right to free exercise of religion."

The Department of Homeland Security has used "freedom of worship" on its naturalization materials since 2008 after USCIS advised that "freedom of worship" is more inclusive than "freedom of religion."

"Not only is 'freedom of worship' inconsistent with the text of the Amendment proposed 226 years ago today, saying that 'freedom of worship' is more inclusive that 'freedom of religion' flies in the face of the pillar upon which our entire nation was founded," Lankford contended. "Our forefathers came to America to have freedom of religion, not simply freedom of worship. So valued, they made the free exercise of religion our first freedom."

Lankford's letter also asserts that "freedom of religion" is the ability for a person to live out their beliefs in every aspect of life.

"The freedom of religion is much more than just the freedom of worship. Worship confines you to a location," the senator explained. "Freedom of religion is the right to exercise your religious beliefs — it is the ability for Americans to live out their faith or to choose to have no faith."

According to The Daily Signal, the Department of Homeland Security does not, as of May, have "immediate plans" to revise its naturalization test and study materials.

"During the redesign of the naturalization test, [the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services] consulted several scholars and experts in the fields of American history and political science to ensure civics items and answers developed for the redesigned test were accurate," The Daily Signal quoted a Homeland Security spokeswoman as saying. "[The Office of Citizenship] was advised that the word 'worship' was more inclusive than the word 'religion.'"

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