(The Center Square) — Georgia ranked 39th in the country for religious freedom despite the state's location in the heart of the Bible Belt.
The Peach State scored a 31% on the inaugural Religious Liberty in the States rankings. Nationally, Mississippi topped the list, as the Magnolia State edged out Illinois and New Mexico for the top spot.
The Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy compiled the rankings based on 29 items forming six groups of "safeguards" that ostensibly protect the free exercise of religion.
"The list of potential safeguards were identified for their ability to protect the free exercise of religion, as shown by at least one of 50 states adopting a religious liberty protection in the named area," the group said in its analysis. "Safeguards were further narrowed to those that could be objectively measured based on a plain reading of state law."
While the Peach State received positive marks for absentee voting and exemptions from childhood immunization requirements, the state was dinged for not implementing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or having an employer exemption to the contraceptive mandate.
Georgia was also dinged for not having exemptions for marriage and wedding participation and its lack of exemptions for healthcare providers.
Among Georgia's neighboring states, Florida fared the best at No 4. Tennessee stood at 7th, Alabama ranked 12th and North Carolina ranked 30th.
Georgia edged out neighboring South Carolina, which ranked No. 38.