Sisk and Heise on Religious Liberty Claims Brought by Muslims in the Federal Courts

Gregory C. Sisk (University of St. Thomas School of Law) and Michael Heise (Cornell Law School) have posted Muslims and Religious Liberty in the Era of 9/11: Empirical Evidence from the Federal Courts. The abstract follows. –YAH

In our continuing empirical study of religious liberty decisions, we find that Muslims asserting free exercise or accommodation claims were at a distinct and substantial disadvantage in the lower federal courts for the period of 1996-2005. Holding other variables constant, the predicted likelihood for success for non-Muslim claimants in religious free exercise or accommodation claims was approximately 38 percent, while the predicted probability for success for Muslim claimants fell to approximately 22 percent (with the disparity being slightly higher among court of appeals judges). In sum, Muslim claimants had only about half the chance to achieve accommodation that was enjoyed by claimants from other religious communities.

Drawing on insights from legal studies, political science, and cognitive psychology, we discuss alternative explanations for this result, including (1) a cultural antipathy to Muslims as a minority religion outside the modern American religious triumvirate of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews; (2) growing secularism in certain sectors of society and opposition to groups with traditional religious values; (3) the possibility that claims made by Muslims are weaker and deserve to be rejected on the merits; and (4) the perception that followers of Islam pose a security danger to the United States, especially in an era of terrorist anxiety. Presenting a new threat to religious liberty, the persistent uneasiness of many Americans about our Muslim neighbors appears to have filtered into the attitudes of even such well-educated and independent elites as federal judges.

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