Christian Nationalism in Your Statehouse: Project Blitz Update

Last year we reported on Project Blitz, a project of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (CPCF) 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]

Recently, the project was updated for 2018-2019 and this time there are even more Christian nationalist ideas for state lawmakers to push forward during upcoming legislative sessions. According to this third version of the “Report and Analysis on Religious Freedom Measures Impacting Prayer and Faith in America” (with additional sponsors including the National Legal Foundation and the Wallbuilders Pro-Family Legislators Conference), the CPCF is hoping to build on recent success. They claim to have tracked the passage of sixty separate pieces of legislation during the 2017 and 2018 state legislative sessions, a staggering number compared to the six tracked in 2016.

The new report, just like last year’s, provides state legislators with template language for religious right-oriented bills and advice for getting them passed.

The model legislation is divided into three categories:

  • “Category #1: Legislation Regarding Our Country’s Religious Heritage” includes legislation designed to
    • mandate the display of the motto “In God We Trust” in government buildings including schools and courthouses as well as on license plates; and
    • create “civic literacy” classes in public schools to teach that the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian values and that religious literature (specifically, the Bible) was the basis of those foundations. This includes creating “elective” courses that teach the Old and New Testaments.
  • “Category #2: Resolutions and Proclamations Recognizing the Importance of Religious History and Freedom” includes legislation designed to:
    • officially recognize a Religious Freedom Day, Christian Heritage Week, and Christmas Day as an explicitly “Christian feast”; and
    • recognize the “importance of the Bible in history” and literature.
  • “Category #3: Religious Liberty Protection Legislation” includes legislation designed to:
    • make explicit statements that a state encourages “intimate sexual relations only between married, heterosexual couples”;
    • proclaim that a state relies on and maintains “birth gender”;
    • favor adoption only by “intact, heterosexual, marriage-based families”;
    • condemn religious persecution worldwide—but with a heavy emphasis on the persecution of Christians and only passing references to “Muslim-on-Muslim violence” and no mention of persons of no faith; and
    • protect professionals and individuals, including teachers and students, from the consequences of enforcing their religious beliefs on others.

An additional section, new in this year’s report, is “Category #4: Talking Points to Counter Anti-Religious Freedom.” Unlike the others, it does not offer model legislation but rather provides information that legislators can use to counter their opponents. Most of this category is focused on countering civil rights arguments regarding LGBTQ issues.

Perhaps to make up for the fact that the document is so long (having grown more than thirty pages since last year’s version), CPCF has added another new section that directs legislators to its “Prime Focus” on three of the many initiatives.

The first focus is on National Motto License Plates acts. This legislation would direct states to offer vehicle owners the opportunity to choose license plates with the motto “In God We Trust.” Although this may seem like a relatively small issue, the CPCF regards these license plates as “moving billboards,” suggesting that they are important advertising for the evangelical cause. Project Blitz materials suggest that legislators are careful to identify this as “private speech” which the driver can choose over other license plate language. However, at least one state (Mississippi) has made the “In God We Trust” license plate the standard, requiring people to opt out of the language rather than to opt in, creating government-favored religious speech.

The second focus favors “sexual intercourse only between a married man and woman.” According to the report, although the Supreme Court has ruled that states must allow same-sex marriage, states can still make it clear that they favor heterosexual marriage:

Many states have already stated their public policy in favor of heterosexual marriages, and the Supreme Court did not overturn that policy when it mandated toleration of same-sex marriage. But every state would benefit from a resolution affirming or establishing the public policy preference that sexual intercourse take place only between a married, heterosexual couple. We support this model resolution with copious social science data and research. Even if the resolution does not pass, there are great advantages in airing this information.

According to research analyst Frederick Clarkson, writing at Rewire.News, the pages of studies the report includes and refers to as “scientific data” are of “questionable scientific value,” chock-full of poorly designed studies and discredited, outdated statistics. The CPCF’s goal here is to eventually allow adoption agencies to prohibit same-sex couples from adopting or fostering children in need of homes. The focus covers many of the legislative issues in Category #3.

The third prong of Project Blitz’s so-called Prime Focus encourages the creation of laws mandating that public schools comply with free speech guidelines adopted by the Department of Education in 2003, which guarantee the exercise of freedom of religion by students and teachers. The report, however, does not detail explicitly what those guidelines require, and the details over issues such as prayer in public schools are where many Establishment Clause disputes arise. This focus could be seen as an attempt to encourage legislators to intimidate public schools into interpreting the guidelines in the way that CPCF sees them.

The Christian nationalist blitz on government continues. Watch your state legislature to find out if any of these laws show up in your state this year, and contact the Appignani Humanist Legal Center if any potential Establishment Clause violations directly affect you.