2012, the GOP party platform mentioned “religious freedom” six times. Its section on the First Amendment was titled “The First Amendment: The Foresight of Our Founders to Protect Religious Freedom.”
In 2016, religious freedom was again used six times, only this time it was joined by four mentions of “religious liberty,” and the First Amendment section was renamed “The First Amendment: Religious Liberty.”
In the wake of last summer’s Obergefell decision, states and municipalities across the country have proposed and passed laws to protect certain religiously-based views on marriage, gender and abortion. Depending on your political orientation, they’re either a defense of religious freedom or a dog-whistle for anti-LGBT views.
In most circles, “religious freedom” and “religious liberty” are interchangeable, but to call them identical wouldn’t quite be right. The words liberty and freedom have different origins, and they have slightly different connotations in the context of American political and cultural history. The GOP’s shift, whether intentional or not, represents the gradual re-embrace of liberty by religious conservatives, and it’s worth taking note of.