(The Center Square) – Despite a longstanding policy on its books concerning religious freedoms, Maryland notched a 50% ranking in a recent report examining how states respond to religious freedoms through legislation.

In its report, “Religious Liberty in the States 2022,” First Liberty Institute put each state under the microscope. It examined their laws for such issues as private hospitals’ ability to refuse abortion services and the types of exemptions that are in place for marriage solemnization and wedding participation.

Maryland, which ranked No. 8 in the analysis among all 50 states, received high scores for offering such provisions as absentee voting opportunities and employer exemptions from contraception mandates.

Despite passing legislation concerning religious freedom before the U.S. even became a country, Maryland also was dinged in the report for not having a Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Maryland also lost points in the analysis for its limited exemptions for health care providers. Ten of the 20 exemptions in the analysis are permissible based on Maryland’s current laws.

This is the first time First Liberty Institute compiled an index of states’ laws around religious freedom.

“The index aims to be robust in the sense that it is intended to capture all the relevant areas of variation in legal safeguards for religious exercise across all 50 states,” wrote Jordan Ballor, director of research for the institute’s Center for Religion, Culture, and Democracy.

The organization’s first go-around of examining states’ various policies included an index of six action areas by state laws – including absentee voting, childhood immunization requirements, and health care provider exemptions – wrapped around 29 distinct protections.

Maryland’s neighbors had middling results in the analysis. Pennsylvania ranked No. 12, Delaware ranked No. 22, Virginia No. 30, and West Virginia ranked No. 49.

First Liberty Institute’s report was not divided along states’ strong political leanings. Case in point: Mississippi, with a Republican governor and Legislature, scored No. 1, while Illinois and its Democrat governor and Legislature followed closely behind at No. 2.

The bottom ranking states in the analysis included California (No. 48), the aforementioned West Virginia (No. 49), and New York (No. 50).

In the report’s executive summary, the researchers outlined their approach to drawing comparisons between the states.

“To maintain objectivity, RLS does not start with a predetermined list of religiously significant topic areas,” the researchers wrote. “We look to the states to indicate where laws are relevant for religious liberty.”

The report further stated, “Where one state grants an exemption, for instance, to those with a sincere religious belief, we identify a potential safeguard and turn to the remaining states to determine whether they are implementing the same safeguard.”

David Fidlin

The Center Square contributor

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