If you followed Americans United’s work during state legislative sessions last year, you definitely heard about Project Blitz – a coordinated nationwide effort by Christian nationalists to use our state legislatures to undermine religious freedom and erode the separation of religion and government. In 2018, Project Blitz’s proponents burst onto the scene by promoting model state bills to require or allow the posting of “In God We Trust” in public schools, passing them in six states including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee.
This year, Project Blitz is back and its architects are pushing their next model piece of legislation: bills to require or encourage teaching classes on the Christian Bible in public schools.
This is all according to the plan laid out in the Project Blitz playbook, in which “In God We Trust” bills are just the first act, and Bible class bills come second. The playbook includes 21 model bills – each one intended to be a stepping stone to the next, ending with bills that would weaponize religion as a means to discriminate.
Since state legislative sessions gaveled in this January, they’ve introduced 14 Bible class bills in 11 states, shown on the map below. Several states have wisely rejected these bills, including in North Dakota, where the Senate voted the bill down by a vote of 5-42, and in Virginia, where a bill passed the Senate but was left in committee by the House. But in other states, including Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Missouri, lawmakers are herding these bills through committees and legislative chambers. By the end of this year’s state legislative sessions, we could see new Bible classes required in several states.
State legislatures may pass these bills, but that that doesn’t make them a good idea. Although public schools can teach about religion, they can’t preach, and when they offer Bible classes, they often find it impossible to toe this line. The result: public schools proselytizing Christianity to students. These Bible classes often look more like Sunday school classes than public school classes. In practice, teachers and schools rarely follow the constitutional requirements that any discussion of the Bible in public schools must be secular, objective and non-devotional. With so many different versions and interpretations of the Bible, it’s very difficult for public schools to teach a class that is inclusive even just for all Christians, let alone all those for whom the Bible is not their scripture.
Take Kentucky’s Bible classes, for example. In 2017, Kentucky passed a Bible class bill just like Project Blitz’s. Now that the bill is law, there is a laundry list of constitutional violations occurring in public schools across the state. For example, teachers assigned worksheets pulled directly from online databases of Sunday school lessons, and kids were forced to memorize and recite psalms.
In Texas, where they passed a Project Blitz-style Bible bill in 2007, the constitutional violations have also been rampant. Some public schools completely gave up the sham of an academic Bible course and evangelized to students. A pamphlet taught in one school district read: “A true relationship to God is ... the personal responsibility of each individual citizen. Would you like to place your trust in Jesus Christ and receive Him as your Savior from Sin?”
That’s exactly what the sponsors of these Bible class bills want. The sponsor of the Indiana bill, Rep. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn), said his motivation was that, “[W]e need more Christianity and religion in our society, in our state.” In North Dakota, Rep. Aaron McWilliams (R-Hillsboro), a co-sponsor of his state’s bill, told reporters, “[W]e are Christian and you know a lot of the founding principles of the country are based on Christian principles and philosophies.” And in Florida, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kim Daniels (D-Jacksonville), blamed opposition on “anti-Christ spirits.”
In January, Project Blitz’s Bible classes got their biggest boost of all from President Donald Trump, who tweeted that this trend across state legislatures was “Great!” As Project Blitz continues to spread Bible courses across the country, Trump celebrated that our country is “starting to make a turn back” toward violating the separation of church and state in our public schools. The next week, although Georgia already offers a Bible class, state legislators took Trump’s advice and began fast-tracking Senate Bill 83 through the legislature to bring the total of Bible courses available in Georgia’s public schools to a whopping five.
That’s not the future we want for our public schools. All kids, regardless of their religious beliefs or if they are nonreligious, should feel welcome in public schools. We’ll continue to fight back. That’s why we recently led a statement by 43 of our allies opposed to Project Blitz’s agenda, including Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim groups, civil rights organizations and secular groups. All of us agree that “parents who want to send their children to public schools [should be able to do so] without fear that they will be proselytized.” That’s why we’ll continue to fight these Bible class bills.