Editor’s Note: The constitutional principle of religious freedom has been undermined like never before under the Trump administration. This year we have seen unprecedented attacks on reproductive freedom and LGBTQ equality, and an erosion of church-state separation that threatens religious minorities and the nonreligious in America.
As the new year approaches, we’re taking a look back at the Top 10 church-state separation issues of 2019 – and how AU has led the charge against these blatant violations of our Constitution.
This year, Americans United led social justice and faith groups to expose Project Blitz, the Christian nationalist political movement to undermine church-state separation, turn the U.S. into an officially “Christian nation” and roll back positive social change by misusing religious freedom to discriminate.
We kicked off 2019 by bringing together a broad coalition of prominent religious, civil rights, secular, LGBTQ and reproductive freedom organizations to urge state lawmakers across the country to oppose Project Blitz legislation. The organizations issued a national statement in January warning legislators of Project Blitz’s alarming effort to transform religious freedom from a shield that protects people to a sword used to harm others, especially women, LGBTQ people, religious minorities and the nonreligious.
AU also produced this video to explain Project Blitz organizers’ strategy of passing an increasingly ambitious set of state laws, starting with bills that coerce public schoolchildren to believe in the Christian god by requiring public schools to prominently display “In God We Trust” and establish Bible classes. Project Blitz then escalates to laws that would permit religion to be used to justify discrimination.
“In God We Trust” display bills and “Bible literacy” class bills each were introduced in about a dozen states this year, with at least one of these bills becoming law in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and South Dakota. President Donald Trump tried to give these bills a boost by tweeting about the Bible class efforts in late January, but his support may’ve backfired.
The president’s tweet led to a lot of reporters reaching out to Americans United to explain the problem with Bible class and related Project Blitz bills. Coverage included USA Today, CNN, The Washington Post, The Center for Public Integrity, Salon, Politico and many others. NBC News’ “Think” opinion division reached out to AU President and CEO Rachel Laser to record this video about Project Blitz.
The negative coverage of Project Blitz and the efforts of AU and allies to expose its harmful goals may’ve played a role in the campaign’s limited success in 2019: about 20 percent fewer bills were introduced and only six passed, compared to nine in 2018.
As a result of the heightened scrutiny and public distaste for Project Blitz’s agenda, organizers are rebranding and going underground to try to continue their legislative assault in the shadows, according to a November investigation by researcher Fred Clarkson.
Even with this setback, we don’t expect we’ve heard the last of Project Blitz. In fact, last month the Ohio House passed a related bill – one that would encourage students to pray and proselytize in public schools. As AU’s Maggie Garrett told The Guardian, it’s very likely we’ll see more of these bills.
Whatever Project Blitz chooses to call itself, Americans United will continue to expose its agenda, which is contrary to our country’s fundamental principle of religious freedom – that everyone is free to practice their faith, or no faith at all, without harming others. Join us so you can help fight against Project Blitz legislation in your state.