Freedom of Worship: an anorexic description of our rights


In April of 2009 Obama bows to a Saudi king as if the divine right of kings instead of the rule of law is the American way. He tried to make amends for embarrasing himself with a speech in Cairo two months later where he gave religious freedom a place of heightened importance in his administration’s agenda. Five months later a rhetorical shift began at the memorial service for those killed in the terrorist attack at Ft. Hood. Obama spoke about how we're a nation that guarantees a freedom to worship. Days later, he referred to freedom to worship and not once to religious freedom in speeches in Japan and China.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed the shift in language. In a December speech at Georgetown University, she used "freedom of worship" three times but "freedom of religion" not at all. While addressing senators in January, she referred to "freedom of worship" four times.

If you have read this far, then you might be asking yourself, what does Saudi Arabia have to do with any of this. I will tell you. If you limit people to just a freedom to worship right then even Saudi Arabia can accept that. If religious freedom only involves the freedom to worship, then, there is “religious freedom” in Saudi Arabia, where Bibles and evangelism are forbidden but expatriate Filipino laborers can attend Mass in the U.S. embassy compound in Riyadh.

Freedom of worship means the right to pray within the confines of a place of worship or to privately believe. It excludes the right to raise your children in your faith; the right to have religious literature; the right to meet with co-religionists; the right to raise funds; the right to appoint or elect your religious leaders, and to carry out charitable activities, to evangelize, and to have religious education or seminary training.

Thomas Farr, religion professor at Georgetown University said

If Obama is changing language to signal sensitivity, it is terribly shortsighted and self-defeating. It will not work, and it will simply make the situation more difficult … to engage.

Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom and member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said

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 undergirds our entire civilization.

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 Canadian Revenue Agency (their IRS) has recently removed the tax-exempt status of a Calgary church, in part because it spends more than 10 percent of its funds and time preaching and teaching against same-sex “marriage”, euthanasia, and abortion. Anyone who imagines that this can’t happen here need only consider the recent efforts by the Washington, D.C., City Council to bring the Archdiocese of Washington to heel over the marriage question.

This Sunday July 4, 2010 we celebrate Independence Day. Most of our ancestors risked their lives in taking a voyage across the Atlantic ocean to a new world of religious freedom. We won our independence so we no longer had to bow to any king on earth, and no ruler would prevent us from our religious freedom. It's a wonderful occasion, but we can't let our guard down so we get an unwelcome change to our way of life. This shift in rhetoric was brought to my attention in an e-mail from Chuck Colson whom I respect greatly, and I don’t think he is a conspiracy kook.

Cross-posted at The Minority Report

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