“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Freedom of Religion or Freedom of Worship?
The First Amendment seems clear. Congress is prohibited from passing any laws that infringe on a person’s free exercise of his or her religion. So why have we seen a flurry of laws, including the Illinois law targeting pro-life medical personnel that was recently ruled not enforceable, attempting to restrict an individual’s religious liberty? It seems that some political elites are attempting to redefine the First Amendment from Freedom of Religion to Freedom of Worship. Read about the recent district court ruling on the Illinois pro-abortion law.
A Big Difference
Is there a difference? Huge! Freedom of Worship means that an individual is free to express religious beliefs only within the four walls of his church, synagogue, mosque, or temple—but not in the public square. Thus a pro-life medical practitioner would be free to express an opinion about abortion while in church, but not in the workplace. We are seeing a dramatic shift in language because of the present conflict between religious beliefs and public policy.
A Subtle Shift
Language matters. As we have seen in the abortion debate, the redefining of abortion from the deliberate act of destroying a fetus to the “termination of a pregnancy” or “removal of the products of conception” was necessary in order to make abortion acceptable in the eyes of more Americans. The redefining of the First Amendment to from Freedom of Religion to Freedom of Worship is signaling a desired shift by politicians to restrict the religious liberty of Americans. Within the last decade, government officials began referring to the “freedom of worship” in place of “freedom of religion.” This language shift was widely proliferated and even affected the citizenship test.
The Future of Religious Exercise
A person of faith knows that religious exercise is about more than freedom of worship. It is about the right to certain styles of dress, to evangelism, to expression of religious beliefs in the normal course of life. What will be the final outcome of such a shift? Might Christians be prohibited from wearing a cross? Will curricula taught in Christian schools be regulated? Will donations to Christian charitable organizations that perform evangelism be denied a tax deductible status? The impact of such a change in language could potentially reach into the lives of ordinary religious people, affecting their professional careers, family lives, and customary religious practices.
It may be hard to imagine; but at one time so was abortion. Rights are in conflict. In this debate about religious freedom, the rights of people of faith to exercise their religious beliefs are in conflict with the perceived rights of secular people to avoid exposure to religion. What will “the land of the free” look like in ten, twenty, or fifty years from now? Learn more about the ministry values of Caring Network Illinois.