The Washington, D.C.-based legal group, Napa Legal, has released its first annual Faith and Freedom Index to indicate to religious nonprofit organizations which states are the best places for their type of organization. The Index ranked all 50 states from best to worst in two categories: religious freedom and regulatory freedom. Alabama and Texas ranked as the two highest states overall for religious and regulatory freedom at 75 percent and 72 percent positive, respectively, while Maryland and Michigan were tied for worst at 29 percent. States were graded based on 14 factors in both religious and regulatory categories. Maryland lost many points in religious freedom due to its lack of protections for organizations that hold to traditional values of marriage and gender, with the Index noting that Maryland “has enacted nondiscrimination laws that conflict with the beliefs of many religious organizations.”

 Alabama scored the highest in religious freedom at 86 percent, with the Index noting that Alabama has “strong constitutional protections for the free exercise of religion, a state constitutional amendment requiring government burdens on religious exercise to satisfy strict scrutiny, and an automatic income tax exemption for organizations with federal 501(c)(3) status. Additionally, Alabama does not impose audit requirements as a condition of maintaining authorization to fundraise in the state.” It did note a Blaine Amendment in the state’s Constitution, which could prevent faith-based schools from receiving public funds. It also noted that Alabama does impose a sales tax on religious organizations’ sales and purchases. The Index also found that states with high regulatory freedom did not always translate to being high in religious freedom, such as in states like Oregon. It had the highest regulatory freedom ranking at 90 percent but was among one of the lowest in religious freedom at 32 percent. 

In a statement regarding the study, Napa Legal Executive Director Mary Margaret Beecher called the study “unprecedented.” “We evaluate state laws not from an ivory tower but with a focus on their practical impact,” she stated. “Faith-based nonprofits bring education, spiritual and moral formation, and humanitarian services to our communities. The Faith and Freedom Index shows how we can do more to value this important work.” The statement went on to note Texas and Alabama for their overall highest rankings because “These states unambiguously protect religious freedom while also setting up nonprofits for success through straightforward corporate, tax, and fundraising regimes.” Regarding the lowest overall ranking states like Michigan, Maryland, and Nevada, the statement declared, “The states feature both complicated regulatory regimes and only minimal protections for faith-based organizations.” Beecher concluded the study by saying, “The overall conclusion of the Faith and Freedom Index is that every state can and should do more to facilitate the work of faith-based organizations.”

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