“Freedom of Religion” vs. “Freedom of Worship”?

Some human rights and religious freedom activists have noted that President Obama and the State Department are referring to the “freedom of worship” rather than the “freedom of religion.”  They worry that this is toning down our country’s traditional stand for human rights.  “Freedom of religion” includes beliefs and practices, whereas “freedom of worship” can refer to just the right to meet together to pray.  Under this construction, still-Communist China and Muslim countries could permit Christians to gather together for worship services, but not allow them to evangelize, teach their faith publicly, or assert their beliefs in the public square.

Is this shift in language something to be concerned about?

For the issue and what people are saying about it, see Why is Obama Changing “Freedom of Religion” to “Freedom of Worship”? | NewsReal Blog.

HT:  Rick

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.masonsjournal.blogspot.com Mason

    Of course the shift in language is a concern. Words are the mechanism by which humans think. Control the language, control the human. That’s why John 1:1 is so important, but few think of that verse in these terms. (Jn 1:1, In the beginning was the Word….”)

  • http://www.masonsjournal.blogspot.com Mason

    Of course the shift in language is a concern. Words are the mechanism by which humans think. Control the language, control the human. That’s why John 1:1 is so important, but few think of that verse in these terms. (Jn 1:1, In the beginning was the Word….”)

  • Telefon

    Obama’s presidential proclamation of January 15, 2010: Religious Freedom Day.

    Examples of “freedom of worship” as used by George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

  • Telefon

    Obama’s presidential proclamation of January 15, 2010: Religious Freedom Day.

    Examples of “freedom of worship” as used by George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

  • Joe

    It is an interesting topic because I was actually thinking it was a broader freedom. You could say that you are allowed to believe any religion you want but not worship in public. But Freedom of worship means that China can’t shut down your house church.

    I see freedom of worship as a combination of freedom of belief and freedom of association. I think this is a good thing. Its more specific yet broader at the same time.

  • Joe

    It is an interesting topic because I was actually thinking it was a broader freedom. You could say that you are allowed to believe any religion you want but not worship in public. But Freedom of worship means that China can’t shut down your house church.

    I see freedom of worship as a combination of freedom of belief and freedom of association. I think this is a good thing. Its more specific yet broader at the same time.

  • Carl Vehse

    The point of the article, of course, is not whether the phrase, “freedom of worship,” has ever been use by a President before, but that its increasing use by the 0bama administration should be a concern. Is this terminology being used by the 0bama administration as an equivalent expression or does he see some difference between “freedom of religion” and “freedom of worship”?

    Just as concerns, if not mockery, were raised about the Bush administrations’s ignorant reference to Islam as a “religion of peace,” given Barry’s years of affiliations with religions of hate, the questions raised in the article about 0bama’s preferences of various religious terminology are legitimate.

  • Carl Vehse

    The point of the article, of course, is not whether the phrase, “freedom of worship,” has ever been use by a President before, but that its increasing use by the 0bama administration should be a concern. Is this terminology being used by the 0bama administration as an equivalent expression or does he see some difference between “freedom of religion” and “freedom of worship”?

    Just as concerns, if not mockery, were raised about the Bush administrations’s ignorant reference to Islam as a “religion of peace,” given Barry’s years of affiliations with religions of hate, the questions raised in the article about 0bama’s preferences of various religious terminology are legitimate.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    I think some people are giving the current administration too much credit. Most likely, I think the choice in language is spoken out of ignorance rather than malice forethought. It isn’t like we don’t have ample evidence that the current administration is hopelessly inept.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    I think some people are giving the current administration too much credit. Most likely, I think the choice in language is spoken out of ignorance rather than malice forethought. It isn’t like we don’t have ample evidence that the current administration is hopelessly inept.

  • E-Raj

    Any shift in language by our government is worth worrying about, regardless of which party is in control.

  • E-Raj

    Any shift in language by our government is worth worrying about, regardless of which party is in control.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Words matter, especially with Obama in the context of his wish to engage the Muslim world. Freedom of worship takes the clear understanding in the Declaration of Human Rights and turns it into mush.

    Article Eighteen of the Declaration of Human Rights reads as follows:

    Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

    Freedom of worship reduces freedom of religion to at best ambiguity and likely to straw. Eleanor Roosevelt, the driving force behind the Declaration, would be appalled that a Democrat president would be involved in such obfuscation of this basic human right.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Words matter, especially with Obama in the context of his wish to engage the Muslim world. Freedom of worship takes the clear understanding in the Declaration of Human Rights and turns it into mush.

    Article Eighteen of the Declaration of Human Rights reads as follows:

    Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

    Freedom of worship reduces freedom of religion to at best ambiguity and likely to straw. Eleanor Roosevelt, the driving force behind the Declaration, would be appalled that a Democrat president would be involved in such obfuscation of this basic human right.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    It’s not just this “shift in language,” but every nuance of this current administration and its minions in Congress that we should be concerned about.

    Interesting, Telefon points to a presidential proclamation proclaiming Jan 16, 2010 as “Religious Freedom Day.”
    I’m so glad that our president has condescended to allow us one single day (this year only!) for religious freedom.This, really, was unnecessary, since the Constitution of the United States of America proclaims religious freedom for every day of the year, for every year.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    It’s not just this “shift in language,” but every nuance of this current administration and its minions in Congress that we should be concerned about.

    Interesting, Telefon points to a presidential proclamation proclaiming Jan 16, 2010 as “Religious Freedom Day.”
    I’m so glad that our president has condescended to allow us one single day (this year only!) for religious freedom.This, really, was unnecessary, since the Constitution of the United States of America proclaims religious freedom for every day of the year, for every year.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Interesting thought….the question that comes to mind for me is whether the phrase actually has a specific meaning. Also, the thought comes that while lots of nations subscribe to UN proclamations like those Peter mentions, and very few actually protect these. Just ask people at the HSLDA, for example; law too often in other nations (and our own, alas) is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Interesting thought….the question that comes to mind for me is whether the phrase actually has a specific meaning. Also, the thought comes that while lots of nations subscribe to UN proclamations like those Peter mentions, and very few actually protect these. Just ask people at the HSLDA, for example; law too often in other nations (and our own, alas) is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

  • Carl Vehse

    “Religious Freedom Day” commemorates the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786. Originally written by Thomas Jefferson, who was Ambassador to France in 1786, it was passed with the help of James Madison, a member of the Virginia General Assembly.

    The National Religion Freedom Day was first commemorated on Jan. 16, 1993, after U.S. President G.H.W. Bush signed the first proclamation.

  • Carl Vehse

    “Religious Freedom Day” commemorates the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786. Originally written by Thomas Jefferson, who was Ambassador to France in 1786, it was passed with the help of James Madison, a member of the Virginia General Assembly.

    The National Religion Freedom Day was first commemorated on Jan. 16, 1993, after U.S. President G.H.W. Bush signed the first proclamation.

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    A change in terminology is cause for concern. Who knows when administration lawyers will spin a technical definition for the new term that turns the whole concept on it’s head?

    I hate even thinking like this, but its what happens when there is no longer any trust between the governed and those that govern.

  • http://www.newreformationpress.com Patrick Kyle

    A change in terminology is cause for concern. Who knows when administration lawyers will spin a technical definition for the new term that turns the whole concept on it’s head?

    I hate even thinking like this, but its what happens when there is no longer any trust between the governed and those that govern.

  • DonS

    Here’s a USA Today article on the issue: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2010-04-28-religious-freedom_N.htm

    The whole thing is definitional in nature, and it’s hard to know what the Obama Administration was thinking when it changed its terminology. I agree with Joe @ 3 that, in my mind, “worship” includes everything I do in service to God, whether it be church services, ministry, evangelism, etc. But if the administration meant to narrow the expression by changing the terminology, or if foreign governments perceive the term to be narrower, then that is a concern.

    In any event, it is good that these watchdogs hold the administration accountable for its language.

  • DonS

    Here’s a USA Today article on the issue: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2010-04-28-religious-freedom_N.htm

    The whole thing is definitional in nature, and it’s hard to know what the Obama Administration was thinking when it changed its terminology. I agree with Joe @ 3 that, in my mind, “worship” includes everything I do in service to God, whether it be church services, ministry, evangelism, etc. But if the administration meant to narrow the expression by changing the terminology, or if foreign governments perceive the term to be narrower, then that is a concern.

    In any event, it is good that these watchdogs hold the administration accountable for its language.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    It’s not surprising that most people seem to be using this as an occasion to express the opinions about Obama they already had — there’s no real information to base a conclusion on. Some people seem okay with that.

    Yes, words matter, but it’s also obvious that we can’t even agree what, exactly, these words mean (or were intended to mean). I tend to side with Joe (@3), because, at the minimum, freedom of religion could be winnowed down to nothing more than “you are allowed to believe (i.e. think) what you want”, whereas freedom of worship at guarantees you can at least do something with those beliefs. Neither phrase fully conveys all that might fall under the fullest exercise of religion, but then, I don’t think any short phrase exists that could.

    But hey, raise your hand if you’re surprised that those on the right-wing have managed to spin Obama’s use of the phrase “freedom of worship” as an attack on our Constitution and religious freedom in general. I mean, honestly, Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom and member of the Religious Freedom commission, even managed, somehow, to conclude that freedom of worship “excludes … the right to meet with co-religionists”, which is what most of us consider “worship” to be! As for the Constitution, it precludes the establishment of a national religion and guarantee, hmm, “the free exercise thereof.” Kinda sounds like the Constitution also thinks that the freedom of religion generally attributed to the First Amendment is the same as freedom of worship, doesn’t it?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    It’s not surprising that most people seem to be using this as an occasion to express the opinions about Obama they already had — there’s no real information to base a conclusion on. Some people seem okay with that.

    Yes, words matter, but it’s also obvious that we can’t even agree what, exactly, these words mean (or were intended to mean). I tend to side with Joe (@3), because, at the minimum, freedom of religion could be winnowed down to nothing more than “you are allowed to believe (i.e. think) what you want”, whereas freedom of worship at guarantees you can at least do something with those beliefs. Neither phrase fully conveys all that might fall under the fullest exercise of religion, but then, I don’t think any short phrase exists that could.

    But hey, raise your hand if you’re surprised that those on the right-wing have managed to spin Obama’s use of the phrase “freedom of worship” as an attack on our Constitution and religious freedom in general. I mean, honestly, Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom and member of the Religious Freedom commission, even managed, somehow, to conclude that freedom of worship “excludes … the right to meet with co-religionists”, which is what most of us consider “worship” to be! As for the Constitution, it precludes the establishment of a national religion and guarantee, hmm, “the free exercise thereof.” Kinda sounds like the Constitution also thinks that the freedom of religion generally attributed to the First Amendment is the same as freedom of worship, doesn’t it?

  • Abby

    This may not refer to Obama specifically–but repitition of language has consequences, re: Hitler, “repeat a lie often enough and people will believe it is true.”

    Starting to happen now: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Smw9QuH1xkA

    Are we starting to give unusual protection? And why?

  • Abby

    This may not refer to Obama specifically–but repitition of language has consequences, re: Hitler, “repeat a lie often enough and people will believe it is true.”

    Starting to happen now: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Smw9QuH1xkA

    Are we starting to give unusual protection? And why?

  • fws

    I have other and better things to worry about I think…

  • fws

    I have other and better things to worry about I think…

  • Abby

    I have participated in evangelism to Jewish people. What they are doing is perfectly legal and judged so by courts in both New York and St Louis. I hope someone brings this before a court for a decision as well. They don’t arrest you in Israel for this. Jews for Jesus does this work there all the time.

  • Abby

    I have participated in evangelism to Jewish people. What they are doing is perfectly legal and judged so by courts in both New York and St Louis. I hope someone brings this before a court for a decision as well. They don’t arrest you in Israel for this. Jews for Jesus does this work there all the time.

  • Seth

    Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

    John 8:7 “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone…”

    Please do a little research before jumping to absurd and unfounded conclusions. If you choose to draw your conclusions before objectively examining the entirety an issue then it can only be assumed that you have a greater interest in preforming a political hit job than on truly understanding the issue at hand or protecting those things which you claim are under attack.

    http://biblebeltblogger.com/index.php/religion/dont-these-obama-haters-have-the-google

  • Seth

    Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

    John 8:7 “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone…”

    Please do a little research before jumping to absurd and unfounded conclusions. If you choose to draw your conclusions before objectively examining the entirety an issue then it can only be assumed that you have a greater interest in preforming a political hit job than on truly understanding the issue at hand or protecting those things which you claim are under attack.

    http://biblebeltblogger.com/index.php/religion/dont-these-obama-haters-have-the-google

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    >> Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

    Irony alert.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    >> Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

    Irony alert.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Mike (@18), what’s ironic about it? Did you read the link provided (@17)?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Mike (@18), what’s ironic about it? Did you read the link provided (@17)?

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Sure I read it. That’s why I made the observation.

    “Judge not lest thou be judged” is most often a bludgeon wielded in the service of passing judgment, as in @17.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Sure I read it. That’s why I made the observation.

    “Judge not lest thou be judged” is most often a bludgeon wielded in the service of passing judgment, as in @17.

  • fws

    Our govt exists to protect us from ourselves, each other and from outside aggressors.

    So what is this debate about? Actions speak far louder than words. A comparison of the actions of previous admins with the current one don´t turn up alot of differences.

    First:
    No administration is condemning muslim countries for making conversions to christianity a capital crime are they?

    Second:
    Is this right? Yes. We don´t get to interfere in the affairs of other countries any more than we would want them to interfere in our own.

    Third:
    So what is legitimate for us to do? Practice what we preach about our own religious freedom beliefs here in the USA. And what are those? We are not even sure.

    Fourth:
    As usually “conservatives” are more interested in adjusting the morality of others rather than focusing visibly on their own. If they would spend more time defining publicly their own beliefs rather than guessing what Obama thinks, this would be far more beneficial for others.

  • fws

    Our govt exists to protect us from ourselves, each other and from outside aggressors.

    So what is this debate about? Actions speak far louder than words. A comparison of the actions of previous admins with the current one don´t turn up alot of differences.

    First:
    No administration is condemning muslim countries for making conversions to christianity a capital crime are they?

    Second:
    Is this right? Yes. We don´t get to interfere in the affairs of other countries any more than we would want them to interfere in our own.

    Third:
    So what is legitimate for us to do? Practice what we preach about our own religious freedom beliefs here in the USA. And what are those? We are not even sure.

    Fourth:
    As usually “conservatives” are more interested in adjusting the morality of others rather than focusing visibly on their own. If they would spend more time defining publicly their own beliefs rather than guessing what Obama thinks, this would be far more beneficial for others.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Mike (@20), let’s think this through. Some conservative blog observes a different phrase being used by the Obama administration, and based on that (and, as Seth notes @17), a marked ignorance of past uses of the phrase), makes a snap judgment of what this really means. Not a few conservatives here pile on.

    And when a fellow Christian dares to suggest (@17) that these rash, defamatory judgments made in contextual ignorance are not really the best, most loving construction, even quoting the Bible on the topic, you complain about being judged. And, somehow, you’re the one tossing about the phrase “irony alert”? Please. With the measure you use, Mike. You have no right whatsoever to complain about being judged if you’re simultaneously piling on the President based on the thinnest observations on mere word choice.

    You may have read the article Seth linked to, but you’re not making it clear that you’ve understood its point. Do you already have your mind made up, or do facts matter, Mike?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Mike (@20), let’s think this through. Some conservative blog observes a different phrase being used by the Obama administration, and based on that (and, as Seth notes @17), a marked ignorance of past uses of the phrase), makes a snap judgment of what this really means. Not a few conservatives here pile on.

    And when a fellow Christian dares to suggest (@17) that these rash, defamatory judgments made in contextual ignorance are not really the best, most loving construction, even quoting the Bible on the topic, you complain about being judged. And, somehow, you’re the one tossing about the phrase “irony alert”? Please. With the measure you use, Mike. You have no right whatsoever to complain about being judged if you’re simultaneously piling on the President based on the thinnest observations on mere word choice.

    You may have read the article Seth linked to, but you’re not making it clear that you’ve understood its point. Do you already have your mind made up, or do facts matter, Mike?


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