Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Freedom of Religion or Freedom of Worship? Obama Shifts His Words

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When President Obama spoke in Cairo some months ago, his language was strong on the subject and he used the term "religious freedom."

Since that time he has consistently used a slightly different phrase when talking about the same subject. He is now using the term, "freedom of worship."

At first I thought I was overly concerned and didn't mention it in any of these blogs.

However, I recently became aware that there are a number of other more qualified observers who are also concerned about this shift in words. They believe it could represent a shift in his policy plans.

In fact the
Catholic Online published an article last Friday expressing concern about this very thing. They also quoted others who follow such things and are also expressing concern.

They are urging members of their churches to be vigilant, notice the shift in words and be aware that, "These small changes can be used to change our perception of rights and freedoms."

Following the Cairo speech, President Obama dropped the term freedom of religion and began using, exclusively, freedom of worship. He first used the phrase, "freedom of worship," at the memorial for the Fort Hood victims. From that point he has exclusively substituted "freedom of worship" for "freedom of religion."

Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton also began using the same term at the same time.

Ashley Samelson is quoted in this article as saying this shift in linguistics is troubling. "The reason," she says, "is simple. Any person of faith knows that religious exercise is about a lot more than freedom of worship."

Indeed. Religious freedom is about preaching, teaching, evangelizing, kosher foods and a whole list of acts related to one's expression of religious freedom, that would not be protected under "freedom of worship."

Christianity Today suggests that President Obama is attempting to present a "softer" message to the Muslim world, hoping to build bridges with his words.

The Catholics make the point that language matters when it comes to defining freedoms and limits. A shift from freedom of religion to freedom of worship moves the dialog from the world stage into the confines of a church, a temple, synagogue, etc.

And such limitations, they say, could unleash an unbridled imitative that we have only experienced in a mild way through actions directed at removing roadside crosses, wearing religious T-shirts and pro-life pins as well as various kinds of evangelization outreach.

It could also negatively impact our right to raise our kids in our faith, the right to religious education, literature, the right to raise funds for church related ministries and activities and the right to express our religious beliefs in the normal discourse of living our life.

Some may think we are making too much of this, however, I don't think so and neither does human rights lawyer Nina Shea, a Senior Scholar at Hudson Institute.

She says, "I'm very fearful that by building bridges, we're actually stepping away from this fundamental principle of religious freedom. It is so critical for Western, especially American, leaders to articulate strong defense for religious freedom and explain what that means and how it undergrids our entire civilization."

Mark Twain was fond of saying, "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a larger matter---it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

What seems like a little shift in language can become a tipping point for our religious freedom.

Be Vigilant. Be Discerning. Be Free.

God bless you.

Gary Randall
Faith and Freedom

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