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Freedom vs. Liberty: Why Religious Conservatives Have Begun to Chose One Over the Other

Religious "freedom" and "liberty" have always had different connotations.
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Following its starring role in the Declaration of Independence, liberty has slowly slipped out of common usage. By the middle of the 20th century, the United States was solidly the land of freedom, its politics marked by turf battles over the proper use of the word—from the Freedom Riders to Operation Iraqi Freedom (although, as many pointed out after several uses of “Operation Iraqi Liberation” by Ari Fleischer, that would have made for an unfortunate acronym).

But now, after a century-long hiatus, liberty is back.

And the Republican platform isn’t the only place the word is popping up. As Geoffrey Nunberg astutely observed, Ted Cruz gave a shout-out to Ronald Reagan when he declared his presidential candidacy at Liberty University in 2015. But unlike the Gipper, who spoke only of freedom, Cruz used the word liberty thirteen times.

The shift back to liberty has also been championed by the Tea Party and popular libertarians like Ron Paul, who launched his Campaign for Liberty and affiliated student group Young Americans for Liberty during the 2008 presidential campaign.

BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith picked up on this shift 2014 when he made the case for a reclassification of conservatives into two groups—liberty conservatives and freedom conservatives. “Liberty Conservatives look, first of all, to America’s founding document,” Smith wrote, while “Freedom Conservatives are as likely to look to Lincoln as to the founders, and they may admit to having ancestors who voted for Franklin Roosevelt and marched for civil rights.”
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