Obama Moves away from 'Freedom of Religion' toward 'Freedom of Worship'?
Words matter - listen carefully to our current administration
Since the initially strong language on religious freedom used in President Obama's Cairo speech, presidential references to religious freedom have become rare, often replaced, at most, with references to freedom of worship. A purposeful change in language could mean a much narrower view of the right to religious freedom. Does this change of language indicate a change of policy? As Catholics, this is an area where we must remain vigilant. These small changes can be used to change our perception of rights and freedoms.
'Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.'
In her article for "First Things" magazine, Ashley Samelson, International Programs Director for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, stated, "To anyone who closely follows prominent discussion of religious freedom in the diplomatic and political arena, this linguistic shift is troubling: "The reason is simple. Any person of faith knows that religious exercise is about a lot more than freedom of worship. It's about the right to dress according to one's religious dictates, to preach openly, to evangelize, to engage in the public square. Everyone knows that religious Jews keep kosher, religious Quakers don't go to war, and religious Muslim women wear headscarves-yet "freedom of worship" would protect none of these acts of faith."
In the administration's defense, Carl Esbeck, professor of law at the University of Missouri, is quoted by Christianity Today as saying, "The softened message is probably meant for the Muslim world, said. Obama, seeking to repair relations fractured by 9/11, is telling Islamic countries that America is not interfering with their internal matters."
Let's be clear, however; language matters when it comes to defining freedoms and limits. A shift from freedom of religion to freedom of worship moves the dialog from the world stage into the physical confines of a church, temple, synagogue or mosque. Such limitations can unleash an unbridled initiative that we have only experienced in a mild way through actions determined to remove of roadside crosses, wearing of religious t-shirts and pro-life pins as well as any initiatives of evangelization. It also could exclude our right to raise our children in our faith, the right to religious education, literature or media, the right to raise funds or organize charitable activities and the right to express religious beliefs in the normal discourse of life.
In the Second Vatican Council's Declaration of Religious Freedom entitled "Dignitatis Humanae", the Church summarizes this right: "Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ."
As we can see, the practice of religion permeates the very fabric of our lives. It cannot and should not be separated into approved and non-approved expressions. Unfortunately, such limits are being instituted across the globe. Samelson writes, "The effort to squash religion into the private sphere is on the rise around the world. "And it's not just confined to totalitarian regimes like Saudi Arabia. In France, students at public schools cannot wear headscarves, yarmulkes, or large crucifixes. The European Court of Human Rights has banned crucifixes from the walls of Italian schools."
The list of countries and limits is growing constantly.
Michelle Boorstein, religion reporter for the Washington Post, notes that "Knox Thames, director of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom -- a Congress-controlled body tasked with monitoring religious freedom abroad - spoke at a recent briefing about the worry, reportedly saying he sees a change in lingo and that it's not an accident."
In presenting a forecast of religious freedom for 2010 to the House Subcommittee on International Religions, Human Rights and Oversight, Georgetown professor Thomas Farr stated, "Those of us in the business of sniffing out rats know that this is a rhetorical shift to watch." Farr was the former head of the State Department's International Religious Freedom Office.
Human rights lawyer Nina Shea, who is a Senior Scholar at the Hudson Institute, is also concerned. "I'm very fearful that by building bridges, we're actually stepping away from this fundamental principle of religious freedom. It is so critical for Western, especially American, leaders to articulate strong defense for religious freedom and explain what that means and how it undergirds our entire civilization."
Leonardo Leo, Chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom made these remarks in the presentation of their 2010 Annual Report in April: "in the world of foreign policy and diplomacy, where every ...
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