Mississippi ranks first and New York is dead last in a ranking of how states enable religious free exercise, according to a new study.
Several blue states, including Illinois (2), Washington (5) and Maryland (8), each scored higher than GOP stalwart Texas, which placed in the middle at 25. Virginia was ranked 30th.
The study was conducted by the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, which is part of the Christian conservative legal foundation First Liberty Institute.
The “Religious Liberty in the States Index,” as the ranking system is called, measured the number of specific safeguards available in each state. Six of the 11 items tracked involve healthcare: childhood immunization requirements, general conscience provisions for healthcare, mandates for contraception coverage in health insurance, and the right to refuse to participate in abortions, sterilizations or the provision of contraceptives.
Other criteria included provisions for absentee voting, the adoption of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the rights of businesses, public officials and religious entities to decline participation in same-sex weddings.
The group said it did not have a list of criteria but examined what laws each state had relevant to religious liberty.
The new index “provides very clear and concrete opportunities for states to improve their protections of religious liberty,” said Jordan J. Ballor, the CRCD’s research director. “For every state, there are examples from other states — whether their neighbors or from different parts of the country — that can be adapted and used to address gaps in their safeguards of free exercise.”
Mississippi’s top ranking came from the strong implementation of each of the various criteria except for childhood immunization exemption and absentee voting opportunities.
The second-place ranking for Illinois was based on the state’s protection of free exercise in almost every category except allowing public officials and for-profit businesses to not participate in same-sex weddings and limiting some rights to refuse abortion participation.
New York state ranked last because it provided limited protections for individuals and institutions who refuse to participate in abortion procedures, and only protected clergy and religious organizations who refused to solemnize or participate in a given marriage ceremony.