According to a new report released by the First Liberty Institute’s Center for Religion, Culture, & Democracy (CRCD), Texas ranks 25th in the nation for religious freedom protections, falling behind Mississippi, New Mexico, and Illinois.

The Religious Liberty in the States report scores each state based on 11 safeguards measuring how effectively its laws protect religious liberty. The project focuses on laws enforcing citizens’ right to the “free exercise” of religion and provides a scorecard detailing how each state compares to the rest of the country.

“A great virtue of this Index is that it provides very clear and concrete opportunities for states to improve their protections of religious liberty,” said CRCD Director of Research Jordan J. Ballor. “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.”

To create the ranking, CRCD generates a percentage score for each state based on how effectively their laws align with the 11 safeguards, including non-medical childhood immunization exemptions, allowing wedding industry businesses to refuse service, and protecting healthcare workers’ rights.

Based CRCD’s calculations, Texas ranked 25th and scored 39 percent, while Mississippi placed first with 82 percent. Illinois came in second with 81 percent, and New Mexico followed with 61 percent.

Although the organization credited Texas for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it called attention to the state’s future actions on religious liberty.

Texas passed its RFRA in 1999, two years after the Supreme Court ruled that the federal RFRA does not apply to state jurisdictions. What is Texas doing to safeguard religious liberty in 2022?

CRCD also highlighted how the state only provides two out of 20 religious exemptions for healthcare workers. Although individual healthcare workers and private hospitals in Texas can refuse to perform abortions, the state forces public hospitals to provide abortions and limits abortion refusal in medical emergencies. Additionally, Texas fails to protect any entity or individual from criminal or civil liability after they refuse to perform an abortion based on religious beliefs, and they can still face government consequences.

Texas law also provides no protections for individuals, private hospitals, or public hospitals that wish to refuse to perform sterilization procedures or provide certain forms of contraception based on their religious beliefs.

According to CRDC, only five states in the nation have an open-ended conscience exemption, which allows individuals to “refuse to participate in any procedure for reasons of conscience.” Although Alaska, Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Washington offer this religious liberty protection, Texas does not.

Although religious liberty was a Texas GOP priority for the last legislative session, lawmakers failed to pass protections for citizens. With the next session less than four months away, Republican lawmakers will have to decide whether or not they will expand religious freedom for Texans.

Katy Marshall

Katy graduated from Tarleton State University in 2021 after majoring in history and minoring in political science.