Freedom of worship, oh no!

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Some conservative paladins of Religious Freedom have gotten their knickers in a twist because they have discerned a new propensity on the part of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to use the expression “freedom of worship” rather than “freedom of religion” in major public addresses at home and abroad. A couple of weeks ago Ashley Samuelson sounded the alarm over on On the Square, crediting Georgetown’s Tom Farr with having first smelled out the rhetorical rat. Now, at Georgtown/On Faith, Farr offers his own extended say: “Obama sidelining religious freedom?”

The burden of the critique is that freedom of religion covers a lot more things than freedom of worship, including the right to wear certain things in public and say certain things in public. So evidently Obama and Clinton are truckling to those who would restrict the ability of certain people to, oh, evangelize.

But, soft. Freedom of worship happens to be one of the famous four “essential human freedoms” enunciated by FDR in his 1941 State of the Union Address. As FDR put it then: 

The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world.

(Then come freedom from want and freedom from fear.)

Here’s the relevant quote from Obama’s November 15 speech in Beijing–one of the prime examples of his alleged demarche from support for religious freedom:

We do not seek to impose any system of government on any other nation,
but we also don’t believe that the principles that we stand for are
unique to our nation. These freedoms of expression and worship–of
access to information and political participation–we believe are
universal rights. They should be available to all people, including
ethnic and religious minorities, whether they are in the United States,
China, or any nation.

In paraphrasing FDR, Obama hardly seems to have been pulling back from a commitment to religious freedom. After all, he’s also insisting on free expression, and that includes freedom to wear distinctive religious garments in public and to speak religiously in public, including on behalf of your own faith.

It’s significant the Samuelson, in a litany of charges against restrictors of religious freedom at home and abroad, fails to mention the Supreme Court’s 1990 Smith decision, wherein Justice Scalia succeeded in rounding up a 5-vote majority for the most stunning slap-down of free-exercise rights since the religion clauses were incorporated into federal jurisprudence in the middle of the 20th century. That tells you that what’s blowing in the wind is ideological smoke.