Alabama Political Reporter: Religious Liberty in Alabama: Pretty Good, Could be Better


Editor’s Note: The following op-ed was published in the Alabama Political Reporter on September 29, 2022, and is co-authored by Dr. Jason Jewell, chair of the Department of Humanities at Faulkner University, and Allen Mendenhall, associate dean of the Sorrell College of Business at Troy University and executive director of the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits Congress from infringing on citizens’ free exercise of their religion. How well do the 50 states safeguard that freedom?

Dr. Sarah Estelle of the First Liberty Institute’s Center for Religion, Culture, and Democracy has begun answering that question with a new report published earlier this month. Religious Liberty in the States 2022 ranks each state according to whether it grants religious accommodations in a variety of circumstances.

Estelle noted where some states expressly accommodate religious practitioners when an issue of conscience arises in areas such as health-care provision and wedding participation. She then considered whether other states made similar accommodations, eventually compiling a data set of 29 items across six broad areas of concern.

The verdict: Mississippi and Illinois rank best among the states at navigating these issues of religious conscience. California, West Virginia, and New York are the worst.

Alabama ranks 12th on this scale. In other words, we’re pretty good, but we could be better.

What do we do well? Alabama grants a religious exemption for childhood immunization requirements. It has a state-level version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). It allows the maximum scope of religious exemptions for the Affordable Care Act’s insurance contraceptive mandate. And it allows individual medical practitioners to refuse to participate in abortions or sterilization procedures on the basis of religion.

We could, however, improve in other areas. Alabama is one of just 10 states that does not include religion as an acceptable reason for absentee voting in elections. This oversight potentially forces Alabama voters to choose between civic participation and religious observance if, for example, an election falls on a religious holiday.

Read the entire article in the Alabama Political Reporter here.