'Freedom of Religion,' 'Freedom of Worship' and Religious Right Calumny

Church & State, September 2010 | Go to article overview

'Freedom of Religion,' 'Freedom of Worship' and Religious Right Calumny


Religious Right leaders, ever on the lookout for more reasons to attack President Barack Obama, will grasp at any straw. Lately, they have been blasting the president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for occasionally using the term "freedom of worship" instead of "freedom of religion."

According to the paranoid legions of the Religious Right, this purported shift in language somehow means that our nation is lessening its commitment to religious liberty.

Talk about nit-picking! Historically, the two terms have been used interchangeably in the United States. In fact, other presidents have used the term "freedom of worship," some quite eloquently.

Remember President Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous 1941 "Four Freedoms" speech? The second was "freedom of every person to worship God in his own way - everywhere in the world."

President Ronald W. Reagan, a hero to the Religious Right, used the term too. Speaking at the Republican National Convention in 1988, Reagan waxed eloquent about the things that make America special, singling out "freedom of worship, freedom of hope and opportunity, and the pursuit of happiness."

The real threat to religious freedom doesn't come from the terminology employed by top government officials. It comes from bigoted Religious Right leaders (and their followers) who say they support religious freedom but want it only for themselves.

Consider the ongoing flap over the so-called "Ground Zero mosque." For months, Religious Right operatives like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin have been fulminating about an Islamic group's plans to erect a facility in Manhattan.

Even TV preacher Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice, which claims to support religious liberty for all groups, is trying to block construction of this building.

Gingrich said recently that the Islamic center must be stopped because Saudi Arabia doesn't allow construction of Christian churches. How incredibly wrong-headed! Gingrich would have us descend to the level of tyranny rather than show Saudi Arabia a better way by lifting up religious liberty.

The Cordoba House is actually a community center more than a mosque. It will include a fitness center and meeting rooms open to all -and it's two blocks away from Ground Zero.

More to the point is this simple fact: As long as they abide by applicable laws, religious groups are allowed to open facilities where they see fit. All must be treated equally by the government. That's real religious liberty.

The irony is, a variety of denominations from across the political spectrum joined forces a few years ago to persuade Congress to pass a special law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, to make it easier for religious groups to build where they wanted. …

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