Reading the Blitz: State Governments Counter the Christian Right

The Georgia State Capitol (photo by DXR)

While Project Blitz proponents work to enshrine religious beliefs in schools and local governments in conservative states across the country, the mid-term elections brought some positive developments to legislatures and governors’ offices across the country.

Religious zealots backed by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation are using Project Blitz tactics to destroy anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans, attack reproductive rights, create new Bible study courses, and post “In God We Trust” signs in public schools and courts. But there is good news on some of these issues as well—even in some traditionally red states.

In Kansas, for example, newly-elected Gov. Laura Kelly (D) signed an executive order banning state agencies and contractors from discriminating against LGBTQ people. The order is a reaction to a law passed last year that allowed faith-based adoption organizations to discriminate against same-sex couples, even if the adoption service received state funds. “If there is way to direct the agency to not implement that [law],” Kelly promised shortly after being elected last November, “then I will do that.”

On the same issue, newly-elected Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel refuses to defend a 2015 law allowing similar discrimination in her state. She is currently working to settle a case brought against the state, saying that there is “no viable defense” of the law.

In Georgia, where Republican Brian Kemp narrowly beat Democrat Stacy Abrams for the governorship in November, there had been concern that a “religious freedom” law allowing for discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs would swiftly pass the state House and Senate to be signed by the governor. But Republican House Speaker David Ralston recently made it clear that passage would not be that easy. The law “has a real potential to divide us as a state,” he warned, terming the proposal a “solution in search of a problem.” While former Republican Governor Nathan Deal previously vetoed similar bills, Kemp has vowed to sign this dangerous legislation.

In a bid to protect young girls, state legislators in New Hampshire’s House are working on a bill outlawing child marriage, some form of which is currently legal in forty-nine. (Delaware is currently the only state that does not allow people under eighteen to marry, even with parental consent or a judge’s permission.) According to the non-profit group Watchdog, “The vast majority of minors being married are girls and, human rights activists argue, many against their will.” It’s thought that many of these marriages happen for religious or cultural reasons.

Last week, on the forty-sixth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, the New York legislature passed a law that would protect women’s right to abortion in that state even if the Supreme Court overturns the landmark abortion rights case. Supported by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), the law protects access to abortion, removes abortion from the state’s criminal code, and expressly allows abortions after twenty-four weeks in some life-threatening cases.

The Roe anniversary also marked the introduction of a bill that would proclaim reproductive choice a fundamental right in Vermont. The bill, which has more than ninety co-sponsors from three parties, notes that,“[t]he General Assembly intends this act to safeguard the right to abortion in Vermont by ensuring that right is not denied, restricted, or infringed by a governmental entity.”

The increasingly progressive US House of Representatives is even showing signs of directly addressing one of Project Blitz’s wedge issues: the recognition of a deity during government proceedings. Members of the House Committee on Natural Resources recently made a move to strip the phrase “So help you God” from the oath taken by witnesses who testify before them. It would have been a small change but symbolically important. Unfortunately, the full committee voted against the language yesterday.

As the blitz continues, we’ll keep on eye on (and cheer for) efforts to stop it.