A Religious Blitz on Our Government

In July the House Appropriations Committee voted in favor of an amendment that would allow faith-based child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people, interfaith couples, single parents, and others. Earlier this year, I reported on attempts to include Bible study in public school curriculums and post plaques declaring “In God We Trust” in government buildings, including schools and courthouses.

Attempts to pass legislation forcing government-sanctioned religious expression and protecting discrimination on the basis of religion are spreading on the federal, state, and local levels under the guise of “religious freedom.” And for this you can thank the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation and its Project Blitz campaign.

As you can tell by the name, the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (CPCF) grew out of the Congressional Prayer Caucus and was established by the members of that caucus in 2005 “to build a network of like-minded government leaders who are committed to prayer and action.” Recently, CPCF created Project Blitz, with the stated aim “To protect the free exercise of traditional Judeo-Christian religious values and beliefs in the public square, and to reclaim and properly define the narrative which supports such beliefs….and to see the public discourse related thereto understood and defined on our terms” (emphasis added).

The campaign has enjoyed considerable success so far. The CPCF’s 2017 Project Blitz manual is a lengthy guide for state legislators that collects model language for some twenty bills that push Christian religious priorities. These range from posting “In God We Trust” plaques, to attacking same-sex marriage and reproductive rights, to safeguarding the right of adoption agencies and foster care organizations to discriminate against LGBTQ people while receiving public money. The manual offers not only actual language for the bills, but also strategies for their introduction and promotion, as well as talking points for legislators.

According to research by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, seventy-six bills have been introduced in state legislatures so far this year that contained language identical or similar to the Project Blitz manual. For example, no fewer than six states have already used Project Blitz language to mandate or allow the posting of “In God We Trust” signs in schools.

And CPCF sees those small victories as important steps towards changing the discussion about religious liberty in our country, because the Project Blitz campaign has goals that go beyond passing legislation. The manual expressly states that the aim is far-reaching:

Despite arguments that this type of legislation is not needed, measures such as the “In God We Trust” bill can have enormous impact. Even if it does not become law, it can still provide the basis to shore up later support for other governmental entities to support religious displays.

The manual first came to public attention in April when Frederick Clarkson, a senior policy analyst at the think tank Political Research Associates, discovered it. In his first article about Project Blitz, Clarkson characterized the campaign as “Christian Nationalism.”

“It’s very rare that you come across a major primary source document that changes the way you view everything, and this is one of those times,” Clarkson wrote. “This is a 116-page strategy manual hidden away on a website explaining at least what a section of the religious right are doing in the United States. To me that’s astounding.”

In a later interview with Religion News Service, Clarkson said,

Religious freedom in the sense that Project Blitz means it is not what the rest of us understand as the revolutionary aspiration of religious equality for all. It’s more of a cover for some conservative Christians to promote their religious and political views via public policy and public institutions, and as a justification for broad exemptions from the law.

Establishment clause supporters also took notice when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on July 30 the creation of a Religious Liberty Task Force to protect against what he characterizes as dangerous efforts to curb the religious liberty of Americans. And by Americans it’s clear he means those conservative Christians who use their religion to discriminate against others.

Exactly how serious is the threat posed to secular government by the Trump administration and efforts like Project Blitz? Dr. David R. Brockman of the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University describes the latter as nothing less than “a covert campaign for conservative Christian dominion over law and public policy.”

While a blitz is usually defined as a sudden effort that’s also energetic and concerted, this one’s underway and the playbook has been seen, so keep an eye on the legislature near you.