(The Center Square) – Michigan ranked near the bottom of states in a first-ever survey of religious liberty throughout the United States.
The Great Lakes State placed 44th in the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy’s inaugural Religious Liberty in the States index, released this week under the auspices of the First Liberty Institute.
The CRCD compiled data from each of the 50 states’ laws and constitutional safeguards for religious exercise to rank the states by 29 specific categories that contribute to 11 religious-liberty safeguards. Michigan scored 26% in such categories that included the presence or lack of safeguards for religious-conscience protections for health-care workers, freedom to refuse participation in marriages and weddings antithetical to religious convictions, and freedom to refuse childhood vaccinations for religious reasons.
For example, Michigan scored zero out of five possible religious-freedom points in the “Exemptions for Marriage & Wedding Participation” category, and scored six out of a possible 20 points in the “Exemptions for Health-Care Providers” category.
In a text to The Center Square, Jordan J. Ballor, CRCD director of research and a Michigan native, explained: “Michigan has none of the safeguards in the area of weddings and marriage. Michigan can and should do much more to protect the conscience and religious beliefs of those whose views prevent them from participating in certain ceremonies.”
Perhaps most surprising are results that do not necessarily reflect whether a state is “blue” or “red.” For example, “red” Mississippi is ranked first for religious liberty, but only ranked ahead by a few points by second-place “blue” Illinois. Texas, typically recognized as a conservative state, only ranked in the center of the index at 25.
California, West Virginia and New York were ranked, respectively, Nos. 48-50.
“Not only do we construct an index that gives each state a single score and a place in our ranking, making interstate comparisons straightforward, we also have compiled a dataset like nothing else that is out there,” said Sarah M. Estelle, director of the CRCD’s Religious Liberty in the States project.
Ballor said the state could improve its ranking in the future by adopting a Religious Freedom Restoration Act tailored specifically for the state.
“The most obvious area of potential improvement for Michigan is the passage of a RFRA,” Ballor said. “These laws limit the negative impace on religious believers from state laws are important protections for people to have as a way to address government infringement on religious liberty. “
Ballor noted the index “provides very clear and concrete opportunities for states to improve their protections of religious liberty. ... 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.”