Ashley Samelson McGuire of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty noted the use of the term “Freedom of Worship” rather than the usual “Freedom of Religion” by Obama back in 2010 in several speeches:
Freedom of worship” first appeared in a high profile speech in Obama’s remarks at the memorial for the victims of the Fort Hood shooting last November, a few months after his Cairo speech. Speaking to the crowd gathered to commemorate the victims, President Obama said, “We’re a nation that guarantees the freedom to worship as one chooses.” Given the religious tension that marked the tragic incident, it was not an insignificant event at which to unveil a new way of referring to our First Freedom.
Shortly after his remarks at Ft. Hood, President Obama left for his trip to Asia, where he repeatedly referred to “freedom of worship,” and not once to “freedom of religion.”
Not long after his return, “freedom of worship” appeared in two prominent speeches delivered by Secretary Clinton. In her address to Georgetown University outlining the Obama Administration’s human rights agenda she used “freedom of worship” three times, “freedom of religion,” not once. About a month later, in an address to Senators on internet freedom at the Newseum, the phrase popped up in her lingo once again.
To anyone who closely follows prominent discussion of religious freedom in the diplomatic and political arena, this linguistic shift is troubling.
The reason is simple. Any person of faith knows that religious exercise is about a lot more than freedom of worship. It’s about the right to dress according to one’s religious dictates, to preach openly, to evangelize, to engage in the public square. Everyone knows that religious Jews keep kosher, religious Quakers don’t go to war, and religious Muslim women wear headscarves—yet “freedom of worship” would protect none of these acts of faith.
Those who would limit religious practice to the cathedral and the home are the very same people who would strip the public square of any religious presence. They are working to tear down roadside memorial crosses built to commemorate fallen state troopers in Utah, to strip “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, and they recently stopped a protester from entering an art gallery because she wore a pro-life pin.
The effort to squash religion into the private sphere is on the rise around the world. And it’s not just confined to totalitarian regimes like Saudi Arabia. In France, students at public schools cannot wear headscarves, yarmulkes, or large crucifixes. The European Court of Human Rights has banned crucifixes from the walls of Italian schools. In Indonesia, the Constitutional Court is reviewing a law that criminalizes speech considered “blasphemous” to other faiths. Efforts to trim religion into something that fits neatly in one’s pocket is the work of dictators, not democratic leaders. So why then have our leaders taken a rhetorical scalpel to the concept of religious freedom?