U.S. Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) yesterday wrote to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson expressing concern about religious freedom language in the U.S. Naturalization Exam. This is the exam that immigrants who are permanent residents take when seeking to become U.S. Citizens.
Question 51 has the language in question:
What are two rights of everyone living in the United States?
- freedom of expression
- freedom of speech
- freedom of assembly
- freedom to petition the government
- freedom of worship
- the right to bear arms
Lankford said it was his understanding that “freedom of worship” has been used since 2008 when the USCIS was informed the word “worship” was more inclusive than “religion.”
He wrote, “Today, June 8th, is the anniversary of the day on which James Madison introduced his amendments to the Constitution. Not only is ‘freedom of worship’ inconsistent with the text of the Amendment proposed 226 years ago today, saying that ‘freedom of worship’ is more inclusive than ‘freedom of religion’ flies in the face of the pillar upon which our entire nation was founded. Our forefathers came to America to have freedom of religion, not simply freedom of worship. So valued they made freedom of religion our first freedom.”
The term used in question #51, “freedom of worship,” would limit the exercise of a person’s faith to a specific place or location, such as a home, a Church, or a Mosque. Freedom of religion, as understood by the Framers and expressed in the Constitution, is a more expansive concept that includes a person’s fundamental right to manifest his religious belief in the public square.
“During the redesign of the exam, we made sure to include a question about freedom of religion, which is one of the most basic principles of American democracy. The term ‘freedom of worship’ was inadvertently left in question #51. This should be changed immediately so that the language of this particular freedom is consistent throughout the test and to ensure that prospective citizens studying for the exam fully understand the true meaning of this fundamental right,” Alfonso Aguilar, Executive Director of American Principles in Action’s Latino Partnership and former Chief of the U.S. Office of Citizenship in the George W. Bush administration said.
Aguilar previously led the effort in the Bush administration to redesign and improve the naturalization exam. While questions #6 and #10 of the civics test explicitly mention the term “freedom of religion” — with question #10 specifically asking “What is freedom of religion?” — question #51 instead uses the term “freedom of worship,” which is not consistent with the text of the First Amendment and does not accurately describe the expansive protections provided by the Constitution for all Americans to freely exercise their religion.
“This change may seem small, but it’s absolutely necessary considering recent efforts by the Obama Administration and by liberal activists to curtail freedom of religion at the state level. Both President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have regularly used the term ‘freedom of worship’ rather than ‘freedom of religion’ when referring to the free exercise clause,” Aguilar added. “Refusing to make this small but important change to the citizenship exam will only confirm this administration’s intent in redefining our most basic principles.”