Freedom of Worship Isn’t Religious Liberty UPDATED


There have been scads of opportunities for the current Administration to smooth over the concerns of folks regarding their moves athwart the First Amendment of late. Regarding rights of conscience, and religious liberty, in particular, though they try to argue that all is well, folks just aren’t buying it.

The reason is pretty simple. All the talking heads on the side of the POTUS keep trumpeting how “freedom of worship” (FOW) isn’t being hampered one bit. Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that FOW isn’t the same thing as religious liberty. When I hear the term FOW, visions of little clusters of folks hiding within the four walls of brick & mortar buildings, or houses, singing and praying quietly pop into my head. And when the services are over? Turn it all off, because if you don’t, the thought police will be all over you.

Maybe it’s not that sinister.  Regardless, “Freedom of Worship” is as far as east is from west when compared to the concept of “religious liberty.” Folks don’t have to be constitutional scholars to know that the First Amendment bars governments from deciding what is, and what isn’t “religious.” Folks are also pretty saavy in knowing that religion isn’t just a bauble they wear to make themselves look good once a week, or more. For if your religion doesn’t shape your world view, drive your decisions on how to live your life in a moral manner that is pleasing to God, and good for mankind, then what good is it?

If you’re fuzzy on all this, let me cut to the chase with a real world example. This past Saturday, we dropped my oldest son off at the parish so he and his peers could head out to do some good via the Catholic HEART Workcamps this week. Never heard of them? Here’s their Mission Statement,

CATHOLIC HEART WORKCAMP MISSION
Our Mission is Twofold…..

First: To share the love of Jesus and serve the neglected, brokenhearted and marginalized in any way needed. The Catholic HEART Workcamp mission is to revitalize communities and beautify homes for the elderly, disabled and those who cannot afford needed repairs. Our goal is to inspire participants to serve in their local communities.

Second: To empower participants to live as disciples of Christ through serving others. To foster the spiritual growth of each participant through the sacraments, Catholic faith sharing and prayer.

All good, right? But wait. This doesn’t sound like “worship” to me. This sounds like trying to live a faith life, fully, and in all dimensions. Helping folks “in any way needed” without regard to the faith life, or lack thereof, of the “neglected, brokenhearted, and marginalized.” Hmmm. That passes muster as religious liberty, but does it for “FOW?”

Clearly FOW does not mean what the government apologists think it means. Joe Six-Pack, and many like him, understand this pretty clearly. Water that was crystal clear has all of the sudden become quite muddy. And who is to blame for that? Who created this shibboleth?

Voters know.

UPDATE: Welcome, Slacktivist readers! FYI…Comments that begin with ad hominem attacks don’t fly ’round here. But since you’re here, you might find this interesting. Peace!

  • David

    Having been to 4 Catholic HEART WorkCamps myself, I can back you up 100% that it is far more than just worship. The people that we helped showed how grateful they were to us in any way that they could, which often was nothing more than inviting us into their home that we were painting to eat our lunches. We shared stories and got to know our residents very well and gave them much more than just a paint job with our witness, almost every time we gave them a new hope in life.

  • Bonnie Taylor

    I read a lot of self-righteous words by you but not one instance where a young man who wanted to help someone, and that someone wanted that particular help, was prohibited by the federal government from providing that help. Please give examples.

    • Frank Weathers

      What has been true in the past isn’t prologue under the HHS Mandate.

      This from the Congressional Digest April 2012 volume,

      [A] “religious employer” is an organization that meets all of the following criteria:

      The inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization;
      The organization primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the organization;
      The organization serves primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the organization; and
      The organization is a nonprofit organization as described in Section 6033(a)(1) and Section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended.

      This definition was criticized by some for being so narrow that many religious institutions that provide health, educational, or charitable services would likely not be considered religious employers for purposes of the exemption. The departments received over 200,000 comments on the amended interim regulations, with some commenters urging a broader definition for the term “religious employer.”

  • http://irritually.org Per Smith

    “Folks don’t have to be constitutional scholars to know that the First Amendment bars governments from deciding what is, and what isn’t ‘religious.’” That is simply not true. The government holds the keys to the chapel. It is true that the Supreme Court has held that the government should not interfere with certain types of religious decisions. But how do you think a religious group is given the privilege to be considered as such in the first place? I cannot simply declare a property of mine “religious” and stop paying taxes on it. Likewise religious activities are regulated all the time. Beyond this you seem to suggest that religious activities, which are designated as such, should not be regulated by government. This happens all the time as well. The extreme end here is if your “religious” activity appears to be in violation of law. The courts do not simply say, “oh it’s a religious activity therefore other laws or regulations don’t apply.” They may give exemptions, in certain situations, and to certain laws, based on the religious nature of the activity, but that is not the de facto position. In fact far from it, and if it were the de facto position Warren Jeffs would not be in jail (where he ought to be). The truth of the matter is that when the Catholic HEART Workcamp decides to go about revitalizing communities (which is a wonderful thing for them to do I should say) they go about doing so within the confines of the rules and regulations of the secular state. If they wanted to donate their time to build a new home in my neighborhood, for instance, they would have to stick to the building codes and construction regulations as anyone else.

    The reason why people talk about “freedom of worship” is because almost everyone can agree that “free exercise” of religion would include freedom of worship. What else it might include and to what extent exemptions to various rules and regulations should be granted religious persons and institutions based on “free exercise” is far from obvious (far from obvious to Supreme Court Justices, to Congress(es), to President(s) and yes even far from obvious to Joe Sixpack(s), who are by no means a homogeneous group of people. In other words the issues is far more complex than the “religious liberty” mantra makes it out to be.

    • cowalker

      Another comment after yours isn’t needed. Thanks.

  • Jay Saldana

    Look, we get it. You don’t like the mandate. You don’t like Obama! Ok, enough already. It is plain to everyone else that you live in a country where there are a basic set of laws. One of the basic set of laws we are trying to establish is that EVERYONE gets Health care. Since it is EVERYONE we want the rules to apply wherever we can so EVERYONE has a chance at the same law and benefits. Contraception is part of the underlining agreement included in BASIC health care. I mean we don’t see you arguing against the Viagra payout in insurance cause it makes men more likely to have intercourse without the intent of procreation and only for pleasure – unless of course you want to argue older men (the primary users) are wanting to have kids. The nice thing about EVERYONE getting the same plan is that an individual can opt out and not hurt the others in the plan since everything is included. This way non-Roman Catholics can have their benefits no matter where they work. Unless of course, you want to argue that your faith is better than other faiths and your morals are better than other peoples morals. But I don’t see you going their either.


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