Since 2008, government-issued citizenship tests required applicants to circle “freedom of worship” to correctly answer a question about what rights Americans have under the First Amendment. Last year, a senator disputed the wording of that answer, noting Americans actually have “freedom of religion”—a discrepancy the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agreed this week should be fixed.
“At first glance, it appears like a small matter, but it is actually an important distinction for the Constitution and the First Amendment,” said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. “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.”
During a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing last year, Lankford called out DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to address his “personal pet peeve” with the language. Five weeks later, Lankford wrote Johnson a formal letter saying “we are doing a disservice” to new citizens by telling them Americans have freedom of worship and not “religion.” DHS officials quickly responded, saying the agency had no plans to change the wording. But in early April, officials reevaluated the situation and decided to change the terminology to “freedom of religion” on all testing materials.
The First Amendment protects the rights of freedom of expression, speech, assembly, and religion, as well as the right to petition the government. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an office under the DHS, changed “religion” to “worship” eight years ago to be more “inclusive” on its naturalization test study materials.
The change did not go unnoticed by religious liberty defenders.
Sarah Torre, a religion and civil society policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, wrote about dangerous “freedom of worship” rhetoric in 2014. She said the new language is part of a movement to water down religious expression.
“This incorrect view of religious liberty argues that faith should remain a private affair—relegated to personal activities or weekend worship services,” Torre said. “The American conception of religious liberty provides every person the freedom to seek the truth, form beliefs, and live according to the dictates of their conscience —whether at home, in worship, or at work.”
In a private letter sent March 28, the USCIS told Lankford it had determined shifting the language back to “freedom of religion” was a feasible request. On Thursday, the USCIS announced the change.
“We are in the process of revising our study materials and web content to reflect the change,” said USCIS director Leon Rodriguez. “Approximately 40 different internal and external web-based and printed publications will be changed as a result of this decision.”
Rodriguez said the USCIS will continue to accept both “worship” and “religion” as correct answers, to help avoid confusion for applicants who may have only seen “worship” in previous study materials.
Even with the long delay, Lankford applauded the USCIS for hearing his concerns and updating its materials.
“We live in a great nation that allows individuals to live out their faith, or have no faith at all,” Lankford said. “To protect freedom and diversity, we must carefully articulate this right throughout the federal government.”
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Publication date: April 8, 2016