Citizenship test to revert to 'freedom of religion,' instead of 'freedom of worship'

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) listens to testimony in a Regulatory Affairs Committee meeting on Capitol Hill, June 18, 2015. | Office of Sen. James Lankford/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – Late in 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made a slight change in wording to the citizenship exam given to potential Americans, but that change had enormous political implications – it removed the phrase "freedom of religion" and replaced it with "freedom of worship," which the department deemed more inclusive.

Critics have since claimed the move was part of Democrats' continuing effort to recast the First Amendment in a way that allows freedom within the four walls of the church, but not outside when the government makes mandates on issues like health care (such as the contraceptive coverage mandate opposed by Hobby Lobby).

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.

President Barack Obama used the phrase "freedom of worship" publicly in 2010 shortly after court challenges were made to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). He does not, however, use it exclusively.

The change in the DHS testing materials did not go unnoticed. Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) asked for an answer as to why the language had been changed shortly after he was elected to the Senate in 2014.

"Not only is 'freedom of worship' inconsistent with the text of the Amendment proposed 226 years ago ... saying that 'freedom of worship' is more inclusive than 'freedom of religion' flies in the face of a pillar upon which our entire nation was founded. Our forefathers came to America to have freedom of religion, not simply freedom of worship. So valued, they made the free exercise of religion our first freedom," Lankford wrote in June 2015.

"We are doing a great disservice to those seeking citizenship in this great country if we distort our history and fail to teach new citizens about the founding and the constitutional principles of this nation," Lankford added.

An answer to his question about the change took more than a year to receive, but on April 8 the senator's office announced DHS had made the decision to revert to the phrase "freedom of religion" in its testing and education materials.

"We are in the process of revising our test study materials and Web content to reflect the change. Approximately 40 different internal and external Web-based and printed publications will be revised as a result of this decision," León Rodriguez, director of the DHS's Citizenship and Immigration Services, wrote in a letter to Lankford.

"We continue to appreciate and share your interest in ensuring that applicants for naturalization learn about this Nation's founding and constitutional principles," Rodriguez wrote.

Lankford said in a statement that the changes should be in effect by the end of 2016 and that he was grateful for the change.

"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," Lankford said.

"At first glance, it appears like a small matter, but it is actually an important distinction for the Constitution and the First Amendment. 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," Lankford continued. "We live in a great nation that allows individuals to live out their faith, or have no faith at all. To protect freedom and diversity, we must carefully articulate this right throughout the federal government."