In its initial form, the Democratic National Platform committee considered the use of terminology that upon reflection should concern all freedom-loving Americans. The subtle shift from the value placed on “freedom of religion” to "freedom to worship and believe" may have escaped the notice of most people, but should worry them nonetheless. The terms may be synonymous in some calculations, the switch is significant.
The first draft of the Democratic Party Platform declared: "We are horrified by ISIS' genocide of Christians and Yezidis and crimes against humanity against Muslims and others in the Middle East." It affirmed, "We will do everything we can to protect religious minorities and the fundamental right of freedom to worship and believe." Very good sentiments, those.
The final version of the platform proclaimed similar sentiments. For example, interspersed with condemnations of Donald Trump, it proclaimed a “progressive vision of religious freedom that respects pluralism and rejects the misuse of religion to discriminate. We will combat LGBT youth homelessness and improve school climates.”
Under the rubric of “A Strong Military
,” it said, “Our military is strongest when people of all races, religions, sexual orientations, and gender identities are honored for their service to our country.” And, “We will end racial profiling that targets individuals solely on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, or national origin, which is un-American and counterproductive.”
Before the Revolution, tolerance of religion was spotty in the British colonies of North America. For example, several Quakers who ran afoul of a Massachusetts ban on all Christians who did not happen to be Puritans were hung by the neck until dead. In Maryland, initial tolerance of all Christians instituted by the Catholic Lord Baltimore was rescinded by local Protestants on two occasions. It was not until the Revolution and the proclamation of the Bill of Rights that all people, including Catholics, were accorded freedom of religion in that state.
Across the river in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson penned the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1779, which stated:
“[N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”
Aspects of the above language found their way into the Bill of Rights and into the First Amendment of the Constitution as an emanation of the Founders insistence on the freedom of speech:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
In more recent times, the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 established the US Commission on International Religious Freedom which investigates nations around the world as to their adherence to the principle of religious freedom.
“Freedom of religion” is a more expansive term that the “freedom to worship and believe” proposed by the Democrats. The former term includes worship but also the right of believers to enter the public square to discuss, defend, teach, and propagate their faith. It also includes the right for Americans to not only worship and evangelize, but also to operate schools and charitable institutions such as soup kitchens and hospitals.
In some countries and societies, while minority religions are merely tolerated so long as they confine themselves to their temples, synagogues, or churches, but are not tolerated if they actually proclaim their faith in the public square. In such places, if believers actually try to convert inquirers, if someone switches from the majority religion to another, or if they speak out on common issues from the basis of faith, then they are lashed with the full weight of a hostile state. This has been demonstrated, not only in totalitarian regimes such as the Soviet Union but for centuries in Muslim-majority countries where fleeing Islam can beheading meted out according to the dictates of sharia law.
In modern Russia under Vladimir Putin, rules against proselytizing forbid, for example, Mormon missionaries from seeking converts. While they are known as “apostles” in other countries where they work, Mormon missionaries are known as “volunteers” in Russia.
Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Catholic priest of the Jesuit order, wrote in an op-ed that the Democrats’ insistence on what they term "freedom to worship and believe" in their platform is a "political landmine." He wrote in the liberal National Catholic Reporter
on his own hook and not on behalf of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. Apparently concerned about the switch, after Reese contacted a friend on the platform committee, James Zogby -- a fellow member of the USIRF -- it was changed to "freedom of religion."
A frequent critic of conservatives in politics, Reese wrote in his op-ed that it is a “myth” that the Obama administration has “swapped out” freedom of religion for freedom of worship. The National Catholic Reporter is an independent publication that covers issues of interest to Catholics. It is not under the ecclesiastical authority of the Catholic Church.
Reese wrote that in conservative circles, “This was seen as an abandonment of the traditional diplomatic struggle for international religious freedom. It was seen as in line with the administration's alleged attacks on domestic religious freedom with its support for the contraceptive mandate and gay rights.” He added, “Was the use of ‘freedom to worship’ rather than ‘freedom of religion’ a conscious diabolical plan on the part of the administration?”
Saying that some commentators alleged the above, Reese quoted Ashley E. Samuelson, who wrote at First Things
. "If the swap-out occurred only once or twice, one might appropriately conclude it was merely a rhetorical accident,” wrote Simpson, who added, "However, both the President and his Secretary of State have now replaced ‘freedom of religion’ with ‘freedom of worship’ too many times to seem inadvertent." Reese was apparently concerned about the how this would play for the Democrats. He wrote: “If the original language had remained, the conservative blogosphere would have gone crazy (note: ed. emphasis) accusing the Democratic Party of abandoning the nation's commitment to international religious freedom.” It was thus that he contacted Zogby.
Zogby is a Catholic and the son of Lebanese immigrants. He was appointed to the USCIRF by President Barack Obama. He is a pollster who delves into public opinion in Arab-speaking countries. Zogby is a professor at New York University-Abu Dhabi and a member of the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee.
After Reese’s intervention, the platform
now reads: “We are horrified by ISIS’ genocide and sexual enslavement 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 of religion.”
But before the Democrats’ platform committee considered the language it would use, with an assist from leftist professor Cornel West, concerns had already been raised over the Obama administration’s policies that infringe upon the freedom of religion. A mandate imposed by the Affordable Care Act on charitable institutions required that the Little Sisters of the Poor -- a Catholic order that has about 300 members in the US -- had been required to provide contraception and abortion drugs to employees covered by its healthcare plan. Because abortion and contraception are not consonant with the teachings of the Catholic Church and other Christian communions, the Little Sisters of the Poor joined other Christians in fighting the Obama administration. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the plaintiffs an all-out effort on the part of the Obama administration and pro-abortion allies to squelch free speech and freedom of religion. Without that decision, the Little Sisters would have had to pay millions of dollars in fines to the government.
This time, people of faith and freedom-loving Americans dodged a bullet when one of the basic principles of the Constitution was threatened by a progressive agenda. Much hangs on who is elected to the presidency this fall. If Hillary Clinton is elected, or for that matter any Democrat, Americans can certainly rely on Democrats to push the nation further down the road of restrictions on freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and for which so much blood and treasure have been spent for more than 200 years.