The Religious Liberty in the States index is a project of First Liberty Institute's Center for Religion, Culture, and Democracy (CRCD). Sarah M. Estelle, research fellow of the CRCD and director of Religious Liberty in the States, says the rankings are meant to help people understand the legal safeguards their states are undertaking for the free exercise of religion that all people are due.
"In position number one is the state of Mississippi with about 82% of the potential legal safeguards," Estelle reports. "Trailing not far behind them is Illinois in second place with about 81% of the potential legal safeguards. At the bottom of our rankings are three states: California at number 48, West Virginia at 49, and New York at number 50. Each of those are doing less than 20% of what they could be doing to safeguard religious liberty."
The data catalog features an interactive map to help people learn more about their states, and Estelle encourages everyone to share that with friends, family, neighbors, "and especially the policy makers that have a real ability to make changes that will improve the situation for religious liberty."
Estelle, who is also associate professor of economics at Hope College, admits that like many people, she once assumed that states offer religious liberty.
"I certainly was a bit naïve going into it," she tells AFN. "I think we expect our laws are going to be constitutional and that states and state entities, public officials, are going to act according to the law."
But in reality, she says more needs to be done to safeguard the free exercise of religion.