"We live in a great nation that allows individuals to live out their faith, or have no faith at all," Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford said today. "To protect freedom and diversity, we must carefully articulate this right throughout the federal government." Lankford called on the Department of Homeland Security to change the study guides used by immigrants aspiring to U.S. citizenship that referred to "freedom of worship" to "freedom of religion." The latter of the two phrases is believed to be more consistent with the text of the First Amendment of the Constitution.
In 2015, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had refused to make the change, but ultimately reversed course.
"At first glance, it appears like a small matter, but it is actually an important distinction for the Constitution and the First Amendment," Lankford said. "The 'freedom of religion' language reflects our right to live a life of faith at all times, while the 'freedom of worship' reflects a right simply confined to a particular space and location."
Today, Lankford said “I applaud the Department of Homeland Security for listening to me and deciding to change their material to reflect our First Amendment right of freedom of religion.”
Earlier this week, Lankford said “I’ve often heard the president talk about freedom of worship,” adding, “There is a real sense that if you have freedom of worship, that means if you have a faith, you can go to church and practice your faith if it doesn’t affect your daily life.”
Lankford characterized that position as a misrepresentation because, he said, it limits worship to a particular time and place. “That’s not what we have,” Lankford said. “We have the free exercise of religion. That is, if you have a faith, you can live it anywhere you choose as an American.”
Homeland Security appeared to agree to the change. "We have determined that making this change is feasible because it is a change in terminology rather than an addition or deletion of test content," USCIS director Leon Rodriguez wrote on March 28.
The change affects 40 internal and external web-based and printed publications of Homeland Security. "In accordance with agency policy, if the applicant's answer to a civics question is an 'alternative phrasing of a correct answer,' U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers will continue to accept both 'freedom of religion' and 'freedom of worship' as correct answers to question 51 when administering the naturalization test," Rodriguez added. Currently, DHS offers citizenship tests to approximately 5 million people annually.
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