“The freedom to worship is one of our nation’s most fundamental rights. That First Amendment guarantee should never be used to undermine other Americans’ civil rights or subject them to discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity,” U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) said introducing the “Do No Harm Act” this month.
It is telling that Harris used the phrase “freedom to worship” instead of “freedom of religion.”
She’s not the first to do so. Former President Barack Obama would substitute “freedom of worship” for “freedom of religion.” Former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would as well.
The first public draft of the Democratic Party Platform in 2016 stated, “We are horrified by ISIS’ genocide of Christians and Yezidis and crimes against humanity against Muslims and others in the Middle East. We will do everything we can to protect religious minorities and the fundamental right of freedom to worship and believe.”
The final platform, to their credit, now reads, “We will do everything we can to protect religious minorities and the fundamental right of freedom of religion.”
Even the ACLU boils the freedom of religion to “the right to worship or not as you choose.”
It’s a fundamental mistake, whether or not it is intentional or not would require me to have the ability to read their minds, but there is a fundamental difference between “freedom to worship” and the “freedom of religion.”
The First Amendment of the Constitution states, “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
It does not limit our freedom to just the act of worship.
To say someone has the “freedom to worship” implies that the government will not interfere with what you do corporately in your place of worship or privately in your home.
Communist China has the “freedom of worship.” Article 36 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China reads:
Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion. The state protects normal religious activities. No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state. Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination.
Their “freedom of worship” is not religious freedom at all.
Freedom of religion encompasses much more than private belief and corporate worship. It guarantees the exercise of our faith throughout our public and private lives: what we say, what we do, and what we will not do in keeping with the tenets of one’s particular faith.
It means that we can share our beliefs without fear of government retribution. It says the government can’t coerce to participate in activities that violate our conscience. It means our pulpits are free from government censorship.
Limiting the First Amendment to the “freedom to worship” would relegate our faith to our personal lives and our place of worship instead of letting it permeate throughout every aspect of our lives.