First state-by-state ranking of religious freedom unveiled


First-of-its-kind index measures status of state religious freedom laws

WASHINGTON, September 14, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — The Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy (CRCD), an initiative of the First Liberty Institute, today released the first annual report on religious freedom in the United States, which includes an index reflecting the protections of free exercise at state level.

The data for this first year of the project is based on 11 legal “guarantees” of religious freedom. Once aggregated, they produce an index score per state, suitable for ranking states and, over time, tracking changes. On the index site ( a separate downloadable dashboard is available for each state for those who are curious about individual states or want to communicate more effectively with their elected officials.

“The RLS Index makes a significant and unique contribution to the field in a rigorous, thorough and thoughtful way,” said Kelly Shackelford, President, CEO and Chief Counsel of the First Liberty Institute. “We are proud of this project and grateful for the hard work that made it possible.”

“Not only are we building an index that gives each state a unique score and a place in our rankings, making interstate comparisons simple, but we’ve also compiled a data set like nothing else out there,” said Sarah M. Estelledirector of the CRCD’s Religious Freedom in the United States project.

The index revealed surprising results. There are red and blue states at the top and bottom of the leaderboard. “Red” Mississippi ranked first, closely followed by “blue” Illinois. Texas, known as a conservative state, ranked in the middle to 25th. While a few of the bluest states make it into the bottom three California (48th) and New York (50th), other blue states such as Washington (5th), Maryland (8th), Connecticut (11th), and Maine (14th) scored in the first third.

“A great virtue of this index is that it provides states with very clear and concrete opportunities to improve their religious freedom protections,” said Jordan J. Ballor, director of research at the CRCD. “For each state, there are examples from other states – whether their neighbors or different parts of the country – that can be adapted and used to fill gaps in their free exercise guarantees.”

The index measures the presence or absence of safeguards, including conscience protections for healthcare workers, opportunities to vote by mail for religious reasons, ability to

religious organizations to refuse to participate in weddings and marriages that violate religious beliefs, and exemptions from child vaccination requirements. The complete list of guarantees is available in the report.

The Religious Liberty in the United States launch event included a panel discussion on the report, broadcast live on CRCD Youtube channel.

About the Center for Religion, Culture and Democracy

The Center for Religion, Culture and Democracy (CRCD) supports the creation and promotion of high quality scholarship at the intersection of religion, culture and democracy. Our publications, programs and resources affirm the importance of religion as a public good to strengthen social bonds and strengthen fundamental freedoms.

About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is a nonprofit public interest law firm and the nation’s largest legal organization dedicated exclusively to advancing religious freedom for all Americans.

About Religious Freedom in the United States

Religious Freedom in the United States is a project of CRCD and parent organization First Liberty Institute (FLI). The RLS Index is a measure of the laws and constitutional guarantees for religious exercise in the fifty states, including a ranking of states out of twenty-nine items that contribute to eleven distinct guarantees.

SOURCE First Institute of Freedom


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