Becket Fund Pushes Back on Obama's 'Religious Freedom Day' Proclamation
Today, President Barack Obama continued the tradition of observing Religious Freedom Day with a presidential proclamation. But this year, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty critiqued his use of "freedom of worship" rhetoric–a debate that first arose in 2010.
"Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose," begins Obama's proclamation (full text at bottom), which later asserts "religious liberty ... is a universal human right to be protected here at home and across the globe. This freedom is an essential part of human dignity, and without it our world cannot know lasting peace."
Becket challenged the president's statement in light of the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, which currently faces 43 legal challenges (many led by Becket) based on religious freedom concerns.
"Perhaps this mismatch between words and deeds can be explained by the phrase 'freedom of worship,' which the President uses in the first sentence of his proclamation," wrote Kyle Duncan, Becket's general counsel. "Religious freedom certainly includes worship, but it extends beyond the four walls of a church. If it is not to be an empty promise, religious freedom must also include acting on one's deepest religious beliefs."
The president's statement does state: "Because of the protections guaranteed by our Constitution, each of us has the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose." But debate over whether "freedom of worship" is too limited a view of religious freedom has repeatedly arisen.
CT reported how the Obama administration's increasing use of the phrase "freedom of worship" as a substitute for "freedom of religion" worried many religious freedom advocates in 2010. Last February, Judd Birdsall explained why Rick Santorum was wrong to reignite the controversy.
Full text of President Obama's proclamation:
Presidential Proclamation – Religious Freedom Day
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DAY, 2013
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BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose. Today, we celebrate one of our Nation's first laws to protect that right – the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Written by Thomas Jefferson and guided through the Virginia legislature by James Madison, the Statute affirmed that "Almighty God hath created the mind free" and "all men shall be free to profess . . . their opinions in matters of religion." Years later, our Founders looked to the Statute as a model when they enshrined the principle of religious liberty in the Bill of Rights.
Because of the protections guaranteed by our Constitution, each of us has the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose. As a free country, our story has been shaped by every language and enriched by every culture. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, Sikhs and non-believers. Our patchwork heritage is a strength we owe to our religious freedom.
Americans of every faith have molded the character of our Nation. They were pilgrims who sought refuge from persecution; pioneers who pursued brighter horizons; protesters who fought for abolition, women's suffrage, and civil rights. Each generation has seen people of different faiths join together to advance peace, justice, and dignity for all.
Today, we also remember that religious liberty is not just an American right; it is a universal human right to be protected here at home and across the globe. This freedom is an essential part of human dignity, and without it our world cannot know lasting peace.
As we observe Religious Freedom Day, let us remember the legacy of faith and independence we have inherited, and let us honor it by forever upholding our right to exercise our beliefs free from prejudice or persecution.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 16, 2013, as Religious Freedom Day. I call on all Americans to commemorate this day with events and activities that teach us about this critical foundation of our Nation's liberty, and show us how we can protect it for future generations at home and around the world.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this sixteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.
Full text of Becket response:
"Today we welcome the President's Proclamation on Religious Freedom Day. However, we deeply regret that the President does not mention the HHS mandate, which was issued by his administration and which is now trampling the religious freedom of millions of individuals, schools, hospitals, charities, and businesses throughout our nation. Perhaps this mismatch between words and deeds can be explained by the phrase "freedom of worship," which the President uses in the first sentence of his proclamation. Religious freedom certainly includes worship, but it extends beyond the four walls of a church. If it is not to be an empty promise, religious freedom must also include acting on one's deepest religious beliefs when one is feeding the poor, caring for the sick, educating the young, or running a business. The HHS mandate ignores that simple truth and is therefore out of step with our traditions and our laws, which promise religious freedom for all." — Kyle Duncan, General Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty