On his radio show today, Glenn Beck went off on President Obama for using the term "freedom of worship" instead of "freedom of religion." The two are not the same thing, Beck insisted -- the constitution of the old Soviet Union also referenced "freedom of worship." This led to Beck ranting about the separation of church and state and how "freedom of worship" equates to not practicing your religion in public and that it really means "you can speak out against [religion] but you don't really have a right to speak out for it."
Just one little problem with Beck's line of reasoning: Obama is far from the only president to have used "freedom of worship."
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette religion editor Frank Lockwood did the footwork (well, Google work). It's not just Democratic presidents who have used the term -- he found an instance of Franklin Roosevelt referencing "the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way" – but Republican presidents as well, including, yes, Ronald Reagan:
Speaking at the United Nations on Jan. 30, 1988, he condemned the Evil Empire.
"Religious intolerance, particularly in the Soviet Union, continues to deprive millions of the freedom to worship as they choose."
And here's the Gipper, speaking at the Vatican after meeting with Pope John Paul II:
Perhaps it's not too much to hope that true change will come to all countries that now deny or hinder the freedom to worship God. And perhaps we'll see that change comes through the reemergence of faith, through the irresistible power of a religious renewal. For despite all the attempts to extinguish it, the people's faith burns with a passionate heat; once allowed to breathe free, that faith will burn so brightly it will light the world.
And the Great Communicator, again, at the 1988 Republican Convention:
I know I've said this before, but I believe that God put this land between the two great oceans to be found by special people from every corner of the world who had that extra love for freedom that prompted them to leave their homeland and come to this land to make it a brilliant light beam of freedom to the world. It's our gift to have visions, and I want to share that of a young boy who wrote to me shortly after I took office. In his letter he said, "I love America because you can join Cub Scouts if you want to. You have a right to worship as you please. If you have the ability, you can try to be anything you want to be. And I also like America because we have about 200 flavors of ice cream." Well, truth through the eyes of a child: freedom of association, freedom of worship, freedom of hope and opportunity, and the pursuit of happiness — in this case, choosing among 200 flavors of ice cream — that's America, everyone with his or her vision of the American promise.
Lockwood also pointed out that Obama has also frequently used the phrase "freedom of religion," including in his 2009 speech in Cairo.
As State Department spokesman Andy Laine told Christianity Today, "the terms 'freedom of religion' and 'freedom of worship' have often been used interchangeably through U.S. history, and policymakers in this administration will sometimes do likewise."
Unless Beck wants to make the case that Ronald Reagan was some kind of commie -- and also wants to argue that Obama is sending some kind of coded message to his secret Muslim atheist friends -- he shouldn't pretend that there's a meaningful distinction between two words that have long been synonymous for pretty much everyone.