BY RALPH BENKO – President Obama’s recent formulation, “Freedom of Worship” has the religiously serious aghast.  It telegraphs a subversion of faith — by defending a right not in question, the right to conduct religious feasts and fasts and ceremonies, and downgrading religion’s heart, values.

The First Amendment interdicts the making of laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion.  The president now replaces a strong and constitutional word, “Religion,” with a weak and chic one, “Worship,” which is religion defined by esthetics, not ethics.  Implication: the Constitution protects our steeples and liturgy, not religious values.

No wonder the nonpartisan Pew Research Center finds that only one third of Americans believe our president to be a Christian.  To which the White House replies:  “The president is obviously a Christian.  He prays every day.”  This response is a non sequitur.  Devout Moslems and Jews pray every day too. The president’s rhetorical dilution of faith makes claims of “obviously” ring inauthentic.

The political elites shamelessly are in the process of “defining devotion down” to liturgy — hey kids, totally up to you to decide whether the priest faces the altar or the congregation, knock yourselves out — and delegitimize the right to advocate for laws reflecting religiously informed values.  A delegitimized right collapses, which is the objective of its adversaries.

Let’s contrast Obama to two great presidents.

George Washington said this in in his farewell address:

“Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.”

And Thomas Jefferson said this to the Danbury Baptists:

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”

“Morality.”  “Conscience.”

The Examiner recently, courageously, called out the Moslem world for harboring bigotry toward other faiths.  There is, however, a more dangerous and disturbing form of religious bigotry afoot in America.  The political elites are fanatically secularist and are becoming emboldened, arrogant, in their intolerance.  Let’s call this what it is:  old fashioned religious bigotry.

The vast majority of gay marriage advocates, for example, condemn as bigots those who oppose same sex marriage rather than acknowledging that the religious are engaged in something properly within the realm of religion, prescribing moral values.

What kind of world is it where a the Supreme Court holds that “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life,” yet stigmatizes traditionalists for their answers?  One legitimately can debate morality.  One cannot stigmatize the religious without fatally undermining liberal democracy.

President Washington linked religion and morality, the “indispensable supports” of “political prosperity.” Jefferson defined the First Amendment as protecting the “rights of conscience.”

Morality and conscience, not worship, Mr. President, are at the heart of the First Amendment and of America. Mr. President, stop defining devotion down and perhaps your credibility might begin to go back up.

Ralph Benko, author of The Websters’ Dictionary: How to Use the Web to Transform the World, www.thewebstersdictionary.com, is a policy advisor to the American Principles Project, www.americanprinciplesproject.org.

Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/columns/OpEd-Contributor/Ralph-Benko-Obama-liberals-are-defining-devotion-down-and-the-First-Amendment-with-it-101865753.html#ixzz0yBJj0Iy5

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