A Question of English Usage?

Christianity Today looks at the way the State Department has recently begun using the phrase “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion.” The Obama Administration sees these phrases as more or less equivalent.

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 and “freedom of religion” once when quoting an earlier Obama speech.

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The State Department does acknowledge that worship is just one component of religion, said spokesperson Andy Laine. “However, the terms ‘freedom of religion’ and ‘freedom of worship’ have often been used interchangeably through U.S. history, and policymakers in this administration will sometimes do likewise.”

But “the softened message” is probably meant for the Muslim world, according to Carl Esbeck, professor of law at the University of Missouri. He told CT that Obama, “seeking to repair relations fractured by 9/11, is telling Islamic countries that America is not interfering with their internal matters.”

Reporter Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra also interviewed Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom and a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. She sees something much more troubling about the “freedom of worship” language. (Read an interview with Shea in the current issue of Religion & Liberty).

Freedom of worship means the right to pray within the confines of a place of worship or to privately believe, said Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom and member of the commission. “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.”

Read “Freedom of Worship’ Worries” on the Web site of Christianity Today.

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