The Christian Right is attacking Barack Obama yet again, this time for referring to “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion.” (One of my favorite magazines,Christianity Today, has the latest.)
According to CT:
“Freedom of worship” has recently replaced the phrase “freedom of religion” in public pronouncements from the Obama administration. Experts are concerned that the new rhetoric may signal a policy change.
Except, of course, that “freedom of worship” is not new rhetoric. Presidents have been speaking about “freedom of worship” and “freedom to worship” for ages.
Here’s a snippet from FDR’s 1941 state of the union speech:
“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want–which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.”
“Freedom…to worship.” That’s FDR’s language — from 1941.
Bill Clinton used similar language while addressing the Iowa state legislature in 1995:
The First Amendment, with its freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of worship, is the essence of what it means to be an American.
George W. Bush used the term “freedom of worship” numerous times — and no one suggested it was part of a nefarious plot to undermine religious liberty.
So did Ronald Reagan. Speaking at the United Nations on Jan. 30, 1988, he condemned the Evil Empire.
“Religious intolerance, particularly in the Soviet Union, continues to deprive millions of the freedom to worship as they choose.”
And here’s the Gipper, speaking at the Vatican after meeting with Pope John Paul II:
Perhaps it’s not too much to hope that true change will come to all countries that now deny or hinder the freedom to worship God. And perhaps we’ll see that change comes through the reemergence of faith, through the irresistible power of a religious renewal. For despite all the attempts to extinguish it, the people’s faith burns with a passionate heat; once allowed to breathe free, that faith will burn so brightly it will light the world.
And the Great Communicator, again, at the 1988 Republican Convention:
I know I’ve said this before, but I believe that God put this land between the two great oceans to be found by special people from every corner of the world who had that extra love for freedom that prompted them to leave their homeland and come to this land to make it a brilliant light beam of freedom to the world. It’s our gift to have visions, and I want to share that of a young boy who wrote to me shortly after I took office. In his letter he said, “I love America because you can join Cub Scouts if you want to. You have a right to worship as you please. If you have the ability, you can try to be anything you want to be. And I also like America because we have about 200 flavors of ice cream.” Well, truth through the eyes of a child: freedom of association, freedom of worship, freedom of hope and opportunity, and the pursuit of happiness — in this case, choosing among 200 flavors of ice cream — that’s America, everyone with his or her vision of the American promise.
[A side note: I was present for this speech in 1988, the fourth and last time that I heard Ronald Reagan speak. I was 21 years old at the time and I'll never forget it...]
I could come up with scores of other examples and you can too, if you spend a little time on the Google.
A stop at the President’s Web site, www.whitehouse.gov, indicates that the term “freedom of religion” is still commonly used at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Obama uses is here and overseas, speaking about “freedom of religion” when he spoke to a Muslim audience in Cairo in 2009.
There’s even a copy of the presidential proclamation declaring Jan. 15, 2010 to be Religious Freedom Day. In the proclamation, Barack Obama writes:
“Long before our Nation’s independence, weary settlers sought refuge on our shores to escape religious persecution on other continents. Recognizing their strife and toil, it was the genius of America’s forefathers to protect our freedom of religion, including the freedom to practice none at all. Many faiths are now practiced in our Nation’s houses of worship, and that diversity is built upon a rich tradition of religious tolerance. …Our Nation’s enduring commitment to the universal human right of religious freedom extends beyond our borders as we advocate for all who are denied the ability to choose and live their faith. My Administration will continue to oppose growing trends in many parts of the world to restrict religious expression.”
It’s clear that a not-insignificant number of evangelical Christians fear and even hate Barack Obama. A sizable number of them even believe he may be the anti-Christ. But that shouldn’t blind us to the historical record — and to Google.
And the Internet record suggests Obama’s rhetoric on freedom of religion, freedom or worship and freedom to worship is similar to past U.S. presidents from FDR to GWB.