They aren’t the same thing, and referring to our First Amendment right to practice (or not) religion freely as simply “freedom of worship” is watering what that right actually means.  Chuck Colson explains below:

Video HT: Colson Center

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom is concerned as well expressed that concern in a report they released in April.  Knox Thames, the USCIRF director was quoted during a briefing sponsored by the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on International Operations, Human Rights and Oversight:

I have noticed a change in terminology by President Obama and Secretary Clinton over the past months. Starting during the President’s trip to Asia, he referred to “freedom of worship” on several occasions, but never once mentioned “freedom of religion.” This trend has continued with Secretary Clinton. In her speech at Georgetown University and her more recent Internet freedom speech, both times she only referred to “freedom of worship.”

Religious freedom is one of those unique rights that, to be fully enjoyed, other rights like association and speech must also be protected. Words matter, and so it’s unclear whether this new phraseology represents a change in policy. Hopefully this language only reflects speech writers trying to create good prose and not a shift in policy, as it would mean a much narrower view of the right. It will be interesting to hear what language the President uses at the Prayer Breakfast, if he talks about religious freedom issues.

Colson in the video above also cites a column written by Catholic theologian George Weigel who also expressed concern about the erosion of religious freedom, he writes:

A month earlier, speaking at Georgetown University, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered a similarly diminished view of religious freedom when she declined to use that term, substituting “freedom to worship” in a catalogue of fundamental human rights that included a striking innovation. Asserting that people must be free to “choose laws and leaders, to share and access information, to speak, criticize and debate,” the secretary of state then averred that people “must be free … to love in the way they choose.”  For those with ears to hear in Gaston Hall that day, the promotion of the so-called LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/ transgendered) agenda had just been declared a human rights priority of the United States, in the same sentence in which the secretary of state had offered an anorexic description of religious freedom that even the Saudis could accept (so long as the worshipping was done behind closed doors in a U.S. embassy).

One has to wonder if there is a connection here.

Religious freedom is already under assault from proponents of the LGBT agenda in Europe and Canada. Rocco Buttiglione’s convictions about the immorality of homosexual acts prevented his becoming Minister of Justice of the European Union, despite a lifetime in defense of the basic human rights of all and an explicit assurance that he would scrupulously enforce the EU’s equal-protection laws. The Canadian Revenue Agency (their IRS) has recently removed the tax-exempt status of a Calgary church, in part because it spends more than 10 percent of its funds and time preaching and teaching against same-sex “marriage” (and, to compound the offense, euthanasia and abortion). Anyone who imagines that this can’t happen in the Great Republic need only consider the recent efforts by the Washington, D.C., City Council to bring the Archdiocese of Washington to heel over the marriage question.

And now we have the successor of John Quincy Adams and William H. Seward, Elihu Root and Cordell Hull, George Marshall and Dean Acheson suggesting that the defense of the LGBT agenda will, as a human rights issue, be considered on a par with such basic human rights as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and religious freedom—and that no small part of the substance of religious freedom may have to be sacrificed, if necessary, to advance that agenda.

Religious freedom, rightly understood, cannot be reduced to freedom of worship. Religious freedom includes the right to preach and evangelize, to make religiously informed moral arguments in the public square and to conduct the affairs of one’s religious community without undue interference from the state. If religious freedom only involves the freedom to worship, then, as noted above, there is “religious freedom” in Saudi Arabia, where Bibles and evangelism are forbidden but expatriate Filipino laborers can attend Mass in the U.S. embassy compound in Riyadh. 

Freedom of worship is not the same thing as freedom of religion, and changing the language (you know, “words matter”) is an attempt to water down and diminish that inalienable right.  We must stand against that in the United States and abroad.

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