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Rick Santorum has a distinguished record as a champion of religious liberty, but he has tarnished his credibility by repeating a baseless accusation that President Obama and Secretary Clinton are subtly truncating America's historic commitment to advancing religious liberty abroad.

At recent campaign stops in Michigan, Santorum claimed that as part of his "radical agenda" Obama "has not stood up for religious rights and religious liberty." I served in the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom from 2007 to late 2011—under Bush and Obama—and found the current President and Secretary to be passionate, vocal, and active in opposing persecution. So what proof does Santorum provide for his claim? Use of the phrase "freedom of worship" in official remarks.

"When you have the President … and you have the Secretary of State referring to the freedom of religion, not as the freedom of religion but the freedom of worship, you should get very nervous, very nervous," Santorum told his audience in Holland, Michigan.

Why? "Because there's [sic] a lot of tyrants around the world who will talk about freedom of worship, but they won't talk about freedom of religion. … What the President is now seeming to mold, in the image of other elitists who think that they know best, is to limit the role of faith in the public square."

Santorum repeated the "freedom of worship" charge at a February 27 rally in Livonia, Michigan.

With his comments, the former Pennsylvania senator has resurrected a controversy that died down two years ago. In late 2009 and early 2010, critics pounced on the administration for isolated uses of the phrase "freedom of worship." To some, this particular phraseology signaled a deliberate attempt to pare back America's religious freedom advocacy. Several news outlets ran stories on the ensuing controversy, with most articles quoting the same handful of vocal critics.

In its 2010 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent advocacy organization, devoted five paragraphs to this supposed shift, saying "a purposeful change in language could signify a much narrower view of the right." An article in The Christian Post went further: altered rhetoric amounted to "laying the groundwork for censuring religious thought and expression in the public square while sanctioning worship as long as that worship remains tucked away from public view within the confines of the church." The Family Research Council was perhaps most apoplectic. The "ominous" shift was proof of Obama's "pursuit of wiping religion off the map" and the "the culmination of a 40-year process to expel God from America."

By this logic it was actually President George W. Bush who expelled God from America—he employed the phrase "freedom of worship" scores of times during his presidency, much more than Obama. It's telling that Bush never received a word of criticism, let alone the kind of conspiratorial derision directed at Obama, for using the phrase.

Has the Obama administration made a rhetorical or policy shift on matters of religious freedom? Absolutely not. During my time at the State Department I had the opportunity to contribute to several of Secretary's Clinton's religion-related speeches and I kept a running log of every public presidential and secretary of state reference to religion and religious freedom. "Freedom of worship" was used a handful of times, but "freedom of religion" and "religious freedom" were considerably more common.

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Santorum Wrong to Reignite 'Freedom of Worship' Controversy