Obama 'Freedom to Worship' Assaults First Amendment; Freedom of Religion Not Just for Private Expression

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President Obama marked Religious Freedom Day earlier this month by framing religious liberty as the freedom to worship as we choose. If the president had not been restricting and attacking religious freedom so egregiously, he might merit a pass for using freedom to worship as poor shorthand for religious liberty.

The First Amendment of our Constitution actually reads, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The constitutionally guaranteed free exercise of religion in America extends well beyond the freedom to worship. It includes the freedom to live out our conscientiously held beliefs.

Worship at its core is essentially a private and personal process, a communion between God and an individual. No government could restrict such worship, any more than it could monitor and censor every citizen's thoughts and prayers. Even forbidding individuals to worship together in public, which coercive communist governments like China's have done, cannot actually prevent individuals from worshiping God in private. So a law that merely protected the freedom to worship would hardly be worth heralding in a presidential proclamation.

The free exercise of religion under the American Constitution, by contrast, includes the freedom to openly express, follow and live out our faith - not just in private but also in the public square - without government coercion, censorship or any other form of restriction.

The concept of religious liberty held by the Constitution's framers included not merely the freedom to worship, but also the free exercise of conscience - carrying out one's moral beliefs with conviction and action.

As Thomas Jefferson asserted, [O]ur rules can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God.

James Madison expressed this understanding in his original amendment to the Constitution: The civil rights of none, shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.

To be fair, Mr. Obama's statement eventually included a more expansive acknowledgement of religious freedom: Because of the protections guaranteed by our Constitution, each of us has the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose.

Yet the record will show that the president's gilded rhetoric belies tarnished policies. …