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Scholarship of Discovery, Scholarship of Interdisciplinary Integration


In the shadow of a 15 year federal battle between the Courts and Congress over how much protection is afforded religious behavior, more than half of the states have declared the highest level of protection either through a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), or through a court decision. This study finds the results of the states‘ attempts by calculating how often actors seeking protection for a religious act win the judge‘s vote. The study‘s date range is the eight years following the last volley in the federal battle City of Boerne v. Flores: 1998-2005. The unit of analysis is each judge vote, 3,254 in all. And the research question is if and under what conditions are these institutional attempts actually helping religious actors win more judge votes?

To make sure the effects of the institutional attempts are independent of other factors, as well as to conduct exploratory research on how other factors affect religious freedom, several controls will be used. Those controls are specifically: characteristics about the judge and county, characteristics about the religious claimant and case, and characteristics about the legal opinion. The results of the study show: 1) States appear to protect religious actors more than federal courts with a 44% favorable vote-rate in the state courts. But 2) neither legislative nor judicial attempts affect religious success, most evidence shows. Judicial attempts can find some significantly positive results in specific models. 3) The most explanatory predictor is the way constitutional language is used in the opinion.


Ph.D. dissertation completed in 2008 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.