Townhall: Understanding the Role States Have in Protecting Liberty


Editor’s Note: The following op-ed was published in Townhall on September 25, 2022, and is authored by Patrick M. Garry, professor of law at the University of South Dakota and a fellow at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy.

In the wake of the Dobbs decision sending abortion regulations back to the states, the nation has been reminded of a fundamental truth of U.S. history and government: matters of individual liberty are not the sole province of the U.S. Constitution or of the federal government. However, since the Supreme Court expanded the reach of the U.S. Constitution into areas of individual liberty in the 1960s, Americans have increasingly seen liberty as exclusively arising from or protected by the Bill of Rights. This perception contradicts both the history of liberty in the United States and the structure of federalism built into the American constitutional scheme.

Federalism creates separate and autonomous governing entities between state and federal governments. Each possesses a distinct realm of sovereignty and legal authority, but a state’s laws exert a substantial and underrecognized impact on individual liberty within its borders. Consequently, an understanding of liberty in America requires understanding how state laws impact that liberty. And achieving this understanding can facilitate a greater appreciation for the way liberty is either protected or threatened in contemporary America. 

When it comes to the states’ protection (or lack thereof) of religious liberty in particular, the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy (CRCD)’s new study, Religious Liberty in the States (RLS)is a valuable tool in understanding of the status of religious liberty in America today. With a comprehensive analysis of state laws that affect religious liberty, RLS examines all 50 states, giving each an overall score and ranking for its treatment of religious liberty issues. Such an all-state study has never before been attempted, but it is necessary if one wants to truly understand the status of religious liberty in America.

Read the entire op-ed in Townhall here.