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You may have heard about legislation passed recently in Tennessee and other states which allows adoption agencies to discriminate against gay couples or families with whom they have religious objections. The fact that bills like that are being considered and passed by red states is no coincidence. They are the product of an organized effort being led by Project Blitz.

The first thing to know about Project Blitz is that it was launched in 2015 by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, the National Legal Foundation, and Wallbuilders. The latter is an organization founded by David Barton, the Republican operative and discredited historian who rejects the separation of church and state, claiming that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.

This project seems to have maintained a low profile until Fred Clarkson, who has been studying the Christian right for decades, came across their 116-page manual of model legislation in early 2018. As Clarkson explains, Project Blitz is to Christian nationalists what the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was to big business.

Many of the bills on [the Christian right] agenda are making news; some have passed key legislative committees or whole state legislative chambers, and some have already been signed into law. But what reporters, activists, and most legislators don’t realize is that many of these bills draw from an unusual package of 20 model bills included in a report assembled by a coalition of Christian Right groups for an initiative they call “Project Blitz.”

The bills are seemingly unrelated and range widely in content—from requiring public schools to display the national motto, “In God We Trust” (IGWT); to legalizing discrimination against LGBTQ people; to religious exemptions regarding women’s reproductive health. The model bills, the legislative strategy and the talking points reflect the theocratic vision that’s animated a meaningful portion of the Christian Right for some time. In the context of Project Blitz’s 116-page playbook, however, they also reveal a sophisticated level of coordination and strategizing that echoes the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which infamously networks probusiness state legislators, drafts sample legislation, and shares legislative ideas and strategies.

According to an analysis by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, state legislatures considered 74 bills that echoed model legislation from the Project Blitz handbook in 2018.

The strategy for this effort is built on dividing model legislation into three categories, depending on how much opposition each bill is expected to receive.

The first category, intended to appear the most innocuous, included bills to promote “In God We Trust” license plates (now offered in at least 20 states) and the display of the “In God We Trust” motto in public schools. (Some version of the display legislation has passed in at least 10 states.) The next batch of bills centered on emphasizing “Christian heritage” and “the importance of the Bible in history” to promote the notion that the U.S. is a Christian nation. The third category, which organizers noted might be “the most hotly contested,” sought to empower licensed professionals to deny health care and other services based on religious beliefs and to enable adoption agencies to reject adoptive families on religious grounds. (At least 10 states have laws that allow discrimination by child welfare agencies, most of which have been passed since Project Blitz launched in 2015.)

That is a veritable “slippery slope” approach to undermining the separation of church and state. Most people wouldn’t find it terribly objectionable to display the national motto in public schools—even though it wasn’t adopted until 1956 in response to the “red scare” of “godless communism.” But doing so opens the door to promoting religion in public institutions and paving the way for legislation in the second category.

Of course, the ultimate aim of these efforts is to arrive at legislation in the third category. Knowing that the courts will reject arguments based on “biblical principles,” Project Blitz advises a strategy that is even more offensive.

To this end, they claim that their model public policy resolutions “rely heavily on the research that demonstrates the deleterious physical and mental health effects of same-sex intercourse and gender identity ‘transformation’.”… In support of this, Project Blitz offers data they suggest shows that LGBTQ people tend to be diseased, dysfunctional or both—and that they pose a threat to children and to society.

Given that any so-called “data” they present is bogus, we need to name that kind of thing for what it is: unadulterated homophobia.

As we saw with ALEC, the best disinfectant against an initiative like this is to shine a spotlight on what is happening. Unfortunately, there still 12 states with GOP trifectas—where the Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the governorship. That is where this initiative is likely to be the most effective.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.