March 2019 Church & State Magazine | Featured

The backers of Project Blitz, a Religious Right-led effort to pass bills in the states reflecting far-right fundamentalist theology, are learning that they’ve got a fight on their hands.

Since its exposure last year, Project Blitz has been under critical, and growing, scrutiny. Now Blitz opponents are stepping up their game – in a very public way.

On Jan. 31, a broad coalition of prominent religious, civil rights, secular, LGBTQ and reproductive-freedom organizations joined together to urge state lawmakers across the country to oppose legislation that uses religion as the basis for discrimination.

The organizations issued a national statement warning legislators of Project Blitz’s alarming effort to transform religious freedom into a sword to harm others, especially women, LGBTQ people, religious minorities and the nonreligious.

Americans United has been at the forefront of fighting back against a new wave of Christian-nationalism bills that are at the heart of Project Blitz. As part of its effort to derail the Blitz, AU has been tracking these bills nationwide and notes an escalation in their introductions around the country. (For more information, and to watch a short video AU made about Project Blitz, visit: www.au.org/tags ­/­project-blitz)

But AU is doing more than just monitoring the situation. It is imperative, the organization says, to strike back – and the more voices that are willing to do that the better.

“This diverse group of powerhouse organizations and religious denominations came together to expose the truth behind Project Blitz – Christian nationalism and the weaponization of religion as the basis for discrimination,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United.    “Proj­­ect Blitz aims to corrupt our cherished principle of separation of religion and government, the cor­ner­stone of religious freedom for all. That’s why our broad coalition is joining together to speak out against this divisive, dangerous agenda that has no place in America.”

The statement lays out in clear detail the threat posed by Project Blitz, calling the effort “a three-tiered framework of state bills meant to incrementally redefine religious freedom and tear down the separation of church and state, with each tier laying the groundwork for the next.”

Project Blitz was cooked up by a number of Religious Right groups and first came to light last year after journalist Frederick Clarkson wrote an article exposing the effort.

Clarkson, who has worked with AU to defeat Religious Right schemes in the past, noticed that bills requiring the posting of “In God We Trust” in public schools were suddenly appearing in a number of state legislatures.

Americans United’s Public Policy De­p­artment had noticed the same thing. A little detective work soon unmasked what was going on: These were model bills designed to attack church-state separation. They were being promoted by several far-right ev­angelical Christian groups – including the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, WallBuilders and the National Legal Foundation. The organi­zations had banded together to launch an initiative they called “Project Blitz.”

The idea behind the Blitz is to swamp state legislatures with bills advancing the Religious Right’s agenda. They aim to start small. The “In God We Trust” bills were seen as non-controversial by Project Blitz’s architects, and they gambled that many Americans would agree. The phrase has been the national motto since 1956, and attempts to challenge it in court haven’t been successful. (See “Bracing For The Blitz,” November 2018 Church & State.)

But Religious Right Blitzers have no intention of stopping there. They want to move up the legislative ladder and secure passage for bills that will allow religious conservatives to discriminate against LGBTQ people, permit taxpayer-funded foster-care and adoption agencies to deny services to anyone who adheres to the “wrong” religion or to other social and religious minorities or dissidents and to push fallacious “Christian nation” ideas in public schools.

Classes that purport to teach “Bible literacy” in public schools are also on the Project Blitz agenda, and we’re already seeing a slew of these in state legislatures. The drive got a boost recently when it was endorsed by President Donald Trump. (See  “Trump Endorses ‘Bible Literacy’ Classes,” People & Events, page 17.)

Opponents of the Blitz say what’s really at its core is Christian nationalism – a belief that a certain interpretation of Christianity (a fundamentalist one) should guide public policy. Americans who embrace this view want the legal right to impose their views on others through public entities. Americans who belong to other faiths (including liberal and moderate forms of Christianity) and non-believers would descend, or be relegated, to a type of second-class citizenship.

That’s a long-sought goal of the Religious Right, but opponents of Project Blitz aren’t about to stand by idly and let it happen.

The organizations assert in their statement: “America – and religious free­­dom – are stronger when the government gives no religion or set of beliefs more power or preference than any other and when everyone is welcome and treated equally under the law.”

The full statement and list of signers is given below:

Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. It is a shield that protects everyone – the religious and nonreligious alike. Yet, an alarming effort is underway to harness the power of the government to impose the faith of some onto everyone else, including our public school students. This effort seeks to transform religious freedom into a sword that can be used to harm others, undermining important civil rights protections and healthcare access, especially for women, LGBTQ people, those of minority faiths, and the nonreligious.

We are united against these efforts. In particular, we oppose “Project Blitz,” a new and coordinated national effort to enshrine Christian nationalism in state laws across the country. Project Blitz promotes a three-tiered framework of state bills meant to incrementally redefine religious freedom and tear down the separation of church and state, with each tier laying the groundwork for the next. This framework starts by pushing what its authors believe will be less controversial measures, such as requiring “In God We Trust” to be posted in public schools. Using those bills as a foothold, it then seeks to pass more dangerous legislation, like bills that allow taxpayer-funded agencies to turn away couples seeking to foster or adopt children in need of stable and loving homes because they are same-sex or the “wrong” religion.

The separation of church and state, however, is the linchpin of religious freedom and a hallmark of our democracy. It ensures that each person has the right to choose whether to practice a religion or be nonreligious without pressure from the government. It safeguards houses of worship from intrusion by the government and, at the same time, prevents religious institutions from harnessing the power of government to impose their religion on others. It protects parents who want to send their children to public schools without fear that they will be proselytized or forced to pray according to someone else’s faith tradition. And, it prohibits the government from allowing the use of religion to evade laws that protect civil rights and access to healthcare, including reproductive healthcare.

Therefore, we urge legislators across the country to oppose Project Blitz and similar legislative efforts. America – and religious freedom – are stronger when the government gives no religion or set of beliefs more power or preference than any other and when everyone is welcome and treated equally under the law.

•  African American Ministers in Action

•  Alliance of Baptists

•  American Atheists

•  American Civil Liberties Union

•  Americans United for Separation of Church and State

•  Anti-Defamation League

•  Baptist Joint Committee for Religig­ious Liberty

•  Bend the Arc Jewish Action

•  Catholics for Choice

•  Center for Inquiry

•  Center for Reproductive Rights

•  Disciples Center for Public Witness

•  Disciples Justice Action Network

•  Ecumenical Poverty Initiative

•  The Episcopal Church

•  Equal Partners in Faith

•  Equality Federation

•  Family Equality Council

•  Freedom for All Americans

•  Freedom From Religion Foundation

•  Hindu American Foundation

•  Human Rights Campaign

•  Interfaith Alliance

•  Lambda Legal

•  Muslim Advocates

•  NARAL Pro-Choice America

•  National Center for Lesbian Rights

•  National Center for Transgender Equality

•  National Council of Churches

•  National Council of Jewish Women

•  National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund

•  National Partnership for Women & Families

•  People For the American Way

•  Political Research Associates

•  Presbyterian Church (USA), Washington Office of Public Witness

•  Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

•  Religious Institute

•  Secular Coalition for America

•  T’Ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

•  The United Methodist Church, General Board of Church & Society

•  Union for Reform Judaism

•  Unitarian Universalist Association

•  United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries