Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Freedom of Religion vs. Freedom of Worship

The United States Citizenship test--take by immigrants who wish to become citizens--asks the tester to name two rights guaranteed under the First Amendment.  There are five rights:  Religion, Press, Assembly, Petition and Speech.  All of these rights are listed here because the Federal Government says it has no authority to dictate how individual States or citizens exercise these rights, if at all.  However, since 2008, a change has been made which, in my opinion, is not small or insignificant.  The change is that word "religion" has been changed to "worship."  This has caused some controversy and I was reading some headlines this morning, I discovered that the junior Senator from the State of Oklahoma, Mr. James Lankford, has sent a letter to the Director of Homeland Security requesting that the word "religion" only be accepted (assuming the tester listed that at all) in place of "worship."   The article's writer said that this is a "distinction without a difference."  Au contraire!

Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but I believe that the people who authored the text of the U.S. Constitution were educated persons who knew what words meant. I would daresay that they knew more English words and how to use them correctly than most high school seniors who just received their diplomas this past month.  Considering that the Founding Fathers were journeying into unknown territory as far as government was concerned, I'm sure that the right vocabulary and grammar were an absolute necessity to communicate the ideals they wanted to enshrine.  They did not choose "worship."  They chose "religion."  And there is a distinction!  Quite simply, worship is private and personal.  Religion is public and communal.

Worship is the style of religion.  Religion is the substance that can (or not) make up a person.  For instance, I am a Greek Orthodox Christian.  I worship according to the Byzantine Rite following the parameters set up in the Typikon of the Great Church of Christ (with revisions made by Violakis).  That means, on most Sundays or feast days, I worship God according to the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.  No one, especially in the federal government, may dictate to me or to my church that I should be using some Roman Rite or some contemporary style on Sunday mornings or at any time I am engaged in prayer at my home or anywhere else I choose to be.

Freedom of Religion is the inalienable right that I may practice the dictates of my Church without fear of any federal government infringement.  This means that if I choose to close by business on a Sunday to observe the Sabbath, I may do so.  This means that if I choose not to bake a cake for a bunch of racists for their annual hate-a-thon against anyone, I cannot be compelled to.  This means that if I choose to give money to a beggar in the street, I may do so, regardless of some ordinance which forbids "panhanding."  And on and on it goes.

Religion is for all seven days of the week. Worship is for that one or two or three hour or whatever amount of time a person puts in at church, synagogue, mosque, drum circle, etc.  Freedom of religion dictates who I want to be in the presence of others who are not part of that particular church community. 

Now, obviously, I do not have the right to practice a religion that would deprive someone else of their life, liberty or property.  That means, if my church commanded me to kill a person on the third day of every month and I obeyed, I would rightly be prosecuted.  But my right to practice my religion in terms of with whom I choose to associate, business or not, is sacrosanct.  I am depriving nobody of life, liberty or property by not associating with them. Only the most twisted and sophistic reading of plain text can say otherwise. 

Regardless of one's religious proclivities in this nation which is becoming a less religious nation, that does not mean that those who choose to adhere to the dicta of their respective churches should abandon them.  That's the point of the first amendment, that it is guaranteed that I may hold on to my beliefs regardless of how society has moved with them.  At one point in time, many of the original states had State Churches.   Massachusetts, whose constitution was written by the very religious John Adams, even had the Congregationalist Church set up as the State Church.  Now, in time, that went away, but not because it was ordered to by a Supreme Court of the Congress of the United States.  Because there was a state church did not mean that the Methodists, Presbyterians or Baptists were persecuted and thrown in jail.  They may not have been well liked, but that is a far cry from genuine persecution.

So, I support Mr. Lankford's letter and his aims.  We are a nation founded on the freedom of religion, on the right to practice our religion even and especially in the public sector. Changing the wording is changing the meaning and for those who wish to become citizens, they are being taught a lie.

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