‘In God We Trust’ – the bills Christian nationalists hope will ‘protect religious freedom’ | US news
The package of new bills are part of Project Blitz, a political playbook that aims to support and promote Christian beliefs. Christian hardliners on the religious right have introduced new bills to impose their values in at least six American states in the opening days of 2019.
The early legal moves have been tracked from Alaska to Florida as mostly Republican legislators make use of off-the-shelf ‘model bills’ generated by Christian nationalists in a playbook called Project Blitz.
So-called “In God We Trust” bills have already been introduced this year in Alaska, Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina, which, if they became law, would see the phrase emblazoned on public buildings, hung in schools and displayed on public vehicles including police cars.
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A bill requiring Florida public high schools to offer Christian Bible-study classes has just been introduced by a Democratic representative Kimberly Davies – a former ‘exorcist’ who called herself the Demonbuster . Similar bills have been introduced in North Dakota and Missouri.
In Texas, a bill allowing teachers to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms will be considered in this state legislature session.
Georgia is expected to try to pass a ‘religious freedom’ act which would give cover to people who run businesses, or agencies which provide adoption or foster care services, if they refuse to serve LGBTQ people on religious grounds.
And in South Carolina, Republican governor Henry McMaster is appealing to the Trump administration to allow Miracle Hill Ministries to keep its federal funding even though it refuses to allow non-Christians to use its foster-care service, a breach of Obama-era regulations.
However, civil rights activists are preparing to use Religious Freedom Day on January 16 as a moment to mount an attack against Project Blitz.
Frederick Clarkson, senior research analyst at Political Research Associates, a think-tank which studies the political right, was the first to draw attention to the Project Blitz playbook last year.
He first revealed that the 140-page playbook had been shared by a group called the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (CPCF) set up by a former Republican congressman with the stated aim to “protect religious freedom, preserve America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and promote prayer”.
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Now civil rights, human rights and atheist groups are coming together to organise against the emboldened Christian hardliners.
Clarkson said: “It has taken time, but organized opposition is mounting.”
A law passed in 1992 gives the president the duty to proclaim January 16 as Religious Freedom Day. It is supposed to be a moment to celebrate all faiths (or none) in the US, recognizing the freedoms first written by Thomas Jefferson, and enshrined in the Constitution and the First Amendment.
But last year, Donald Trump, heavily influenced by Christian Evangelicals used his proclamation to advance a Christian nationalist message that religious freedom was under threat from courts and legislatures “forcing people to comply with laws that violate their core religious beliefs”.
Trump claimed: “no American – whether a nun, nurse, baker or business owner – should be forced to choose between the tenets of faith or adherence to the law.”
Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk of Courts, refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples citing her religious beliefs. Photograph: Ty Wright/Getty Images
He was providing explicit support for those who would refuse to serve LGBTQ customers, deny reproductive rights to women, or block gay couples from adopting children or becoming foster parents.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is making opposition to Project Blitz a priority in 2019. It has been tracking bills and working with other activist groups to track new laws and organise opposition against them.
Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United said: “Project Blitz is one of the foremost organised efforts to infiltrate state legislatures with religion.”
By shining a light on the Project Blitz playbook, Americans United wants to clearly “hallmark” In God We Trust bills as the creation of the CPCF.
Laser said the aim was “to demonstrate to state legislatures that they are very much part of a Christian nationalism plan to codify a far right Evangelical Christian America and allow religious liberty to be used as a sword to harm others, instead of as a shield to protect people.”
Opponents have tracked at least 75 bills brought forward in more than 20 states since Trump became president which stem from the Project Blitz playbook.
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Clarkson’s work last year revealed one of the steering team behind Project Blitz as David Barton, the Texas-based founder of an organisation called WallBuilders, which takes its inspiration from the Old Testament in describing a mission of “rebuilding our nation’s foundations”.
In a recording of a call with state legislators, he described in detail the strategy behind Project Blitz, which he said packages together about two dozen bills in separate categories based on the type of opposition they are likely to receive.
The first category of “In God We Trust” bills are likely to trigger opposition by saying the bills are a waste of time, or the sponsor of the bill “just wants to fight culture wars and divide people”.
Category two include bills for a range of proclamations or resolutions – declaring a religious freedom day or Christian heritage week that can then be used to get religious teaching into schools.
Category three bills will have the greatest impact but will be “the most hotly contested” the playbook says – they include resolutions in favour of “biblical values concerning marriage and sexuality”, such as “establishing public policy favoring adoption by intact heterosexual, marriage-based families” and “establishing public policy favoring intimate sexual relations only between married, heterosexual couples”.
A Right to Life protester prays during a sit-in in front of a proposed Planned Parenthood location. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Laser said: “When a lot of state legislators see ‘In God We Trust’ they think that is harmless patriotism, but it is part of an intentional plan to build momentum for establishing a Christian America.”
Laser said there are real concerns about a momentum behind Christian nationalism, which she said Trump has bolstered with the appointment of pro-life Supreme Court judges Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. The only religious advisory board Trump has is an all Evangelical Christian advisory board.
Last year the administration announced a religious liberty task force at a religious liberty summit event attended entirely by social conservatives.
As Trump prepares to release his Religious Freedom Day proclamation next Wednesday (16 January) some legislatures are preparing their own inclusive resolutions. In Washington DC, David Grosso an independent member of the Council of the District of Columbia sponsored a Religious Freedom Day resolution which recognizes all faiths and none and says “the government may not favor one religion over another, or over nonreligion, without fatally undermining religious freedom”.
He said: “We are built on the principles of freedom of and freedom from religion in the United States and we shouldn’t let the far-right activists that are pushing these efforts like Project Blitz undermine that reality.”
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