Stephen Cranney

Publication Date


Document Type



Religious freedom has become a flashpoint in the culture wars, and religious freedom rhetoric is often framed differently by different political sides. Political conservatives are typically perceived as emphasizing Judeo-Christian institutions; progressives are typically perceived as emphasizing minority faiths such as Islamic and Native American religious practices. This framing, in turn, affects perceptions of religious freedom legislation.

Arguably, the most significant piece of religious freedom legislation in recent history is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law that heightens the legal standard required for the federal government to interfere with the free exercise of religion. This fight over the meaning and purpose of religious freedom in the United States has extended to RFRA, and much academic and popular discourse has framed RFRA as a tool of Christian institutions trying to be granted special privileges. However, the actual effect of RFRA is an empirical question, as opposed to its initial perception. Has RFRA been primarily used as a legal tool of majority Christian institutions? Or should it be conceptualized as a historically useful asset for smaller, less popular religious movements that lack the level of sociocultural support afforded to Christians in the United States? ...

Abrams helped fill this lacuna by systematically collecting a dataset of all post-Hobby Lobby federal district court cases that made a merits decision on a RFRA issue. Abrams then applied multivariate logistic regression analysis in order to test predictors of success, finding in the analysis that Christians are more likely to win RFRA cases.

Here, I reanalyzed Abram’s data, and did not find evidence of a bias towards Christianity, but found strong evidence of the negative secular effect that Abrams discovered. The discrepancies found are probably attributable to lack of clarity in variable operationalization, statistical overfitting, or too many variables per observation. Additionally, I investigate not only who is winning RFRA cases, but who is invoking RFRA relative to their proportion of the United States population, and what types of cases (such as prisoner and pro se) cluster with different religious traditions.