Empirical Analysis of Religious Freedom Restoration Act Cases in the Federal District Courts Since Hobby Lobby

HRLR Online November 14, 2019
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Meredith Abrams is a 2020 J.D. Candidate, Columbia Law School.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 has been controversial for almost as long as it has been law. It allows individuals to get exemptions from laws of general applicability based on religious belief. There has been a large body of scholarship performing empirical analysis on RFRA, but notably missing is a post-Hobby Lobby study applying techniques bringing predictive power to recent data. This Note fills that gap. Every federal district court case since Hobby Lobby making a merits decision on a RFRA issue was coded for various factors thought to influence outcome. Then, binomial logistic regression was performed examining what variables were predictive of outcome, either in favor of or barring an exemption. The model found that being secular or being Christian, all else equal, had a predictive effect on outcome. These results are useful for entering a discussion of how fairly RFRA is applied, and what unintended externalities may be present on third parties.