WASHINGTON — “For many today, religious liberty is not a cherished freedom,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. told the Federalist Society, the conservative legal group, in November. “It pains me to say this, but, in certain quarters, religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored right.”
Those quarters do not include the Supreme Court, which has become far more likely to rule in favor of religious rights in recent years, according to a new study that considered 70 years of data.
The study, to be published in The Supreme Court Review, documented a 35-percentage-point increase in the rate of rulings in favor of religion in orally argued cases, culminating in an 81 percent success rate in the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
“Plainly, the Roberts court has ruled in favor of religious organizations, including mainstream Christian organizations, more frequently than its predecessors,” wrote the study’s authors, Lee Epstein of Washington University in St. Louis and Eric A. Posner of the University of Chicago. “With the replacement of Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Amy Coney Barrett, this trend will not end soon and may accelerate.”
(The court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, from 1953 to 1969, supported religion just 46 percent of the time. That grew to 51 percent under Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, from 1969 to 1986; then to 58 percent under Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, from 1986 to 2005; and finally jumped to just over 81 percent under Chief Justice Roberts, who joined the court in 2005.)