All too often we say something in conversation and the other person looks at us blankly, and we have to repeat ourselves with other words--synonyms perhaps--to get our idea across. The reality is that dictionary definitions aside, words can mean very different things to different people. Adding to this communication blur is the increasing public use of language to mislead or even redefine meaning. Orwell wrote much on this in 1984 and our modern politcal discourse has taken it to levels even a futurist of a few decades ago could not have imagined. In our religious liberty world we have long been at pains to point out the very deep implication to the distinction between religious toleration and true religious freedom. The one allows religious practice under a sort of grudging duress and can be withdrawn if the offence get too large. True religious freedom allows relious diversity out of respect for the right of all people to believe and practice whatever they choose. It does not imply or guarantee that all religious practice is personally agreeable, but that a true believer in religious freedom will fight for the right for a person to practice such faith, precisely because they respect the supreme right of all to do so.
In a new twist on the language of religious freedom, it seems that a number of public officials have begun to use the term "freedom of worship" instead of "freedom of religion." Various groups have begun to pick up on this. Even Christianity Today has discussed the possible negative implications of the shift. Of course the imputations of intent here can easily cut along party/faction lines. It might be nothing more than the outgrowth of someone's clever application of policy. Of course it could still have negative implications simply because there is no escaping the meaning of language.
It is worth remembering that the Soviet Union, post Stalin, was all for freedom of worship. It was constitutionally guranteed. However people of faith were marginalised by the system which still saw them as impediments to progress and continued to marginalize thenm and indeed punish them in a variety of ways for their religious faith.
Their is a massive gulf between allowing freedom of worship--at its narrowest a Soviet-style time and place allocation--and the freedom of religion which grants respect to the person of faith and allows the exercise of worship and behaviour their faith requires.
Author: Lincoln E. Steed
Lincoln E. Steed is the editor of Liberty magazine, a 200,000 circulation religious liberty journal which is distributed to political leaders, judiciary, lawyers and other thought leaders in North America. He is additionally the host of the weekly 3ABN television show "The Liberty Insider," and the radio program "Lifequest Liberty."