Republicans across the country, now bolstered by the Trump administration, have been working very hard to enable healthcare providers, adoption agencies, and other organizations to deny services to LGBTQ people in the name of religious freedom. A disturbing new report by USA Today, the Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity has traced hundreds of so-called “religious freedom” bills back to a non-profit Christian organization that has created an influential playbook which Republicans are copying into bills across the country. So far, more than 60 have been signed into law.
The playbook is called “Project Blitz,” and it was created in 2017 by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, a Christian non-profit organization whose membership includes “hundreds” of lawmakers nationwide, including from Congress.
Here’s a sample:
The latest version of the playbook, from 2018, includes 148 pages of strategy, talking points and model language for legislators designed to push laws that instill Judeo-Christian principles in public schools and other governmental institutions.
“It is critical to think strategically,” states the book. “Part of that effort is not to let those who want to run roughshod over religious liberty dictate the terms of the discussion.”
The organization is an extension of former Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes’s Congressional Prayer Caucus, which he founded in 2005. He created a non-profit, tax exempt organization “to work alongside the members and to build a network of like-minded government leaders,” as USA Today reports:
The foundation has a network of more than 1,100 national, state and local government leaders across 36 states, according to its website PrayUSA.com.
Foundation officials did not respond to multiple calls and emails requesting comment, but the foundation’s mission statement says it “will restore and promote America’s founding spirit and core principles related to faith and morality by equipping and mobilizing a national network of citizens, legislators, pastors, business owners and opinion leaders.”
Project Blitz, specifically, has ties to many conservative groups, the report found, all linked to single man—David Barton, “a prominent evangelical and former vice-chairman of the Texas Republican party who has created books and videos promoting the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and must continue as one.”
According to the report, Project Blitz has three aims: The first is to introduce bills requiring a display of the national motto, “In God We Trust”; they’ve passed at least nine bills since 2015. The second is “for resolutions and proclamations recognizing the importance of religious history and freedom,” like recognizing, as Michigan does, a Religious Freedom Day (okay?). The third, and most nefarious, aim of the campaign is passing “public policies in favor of biblical values concerning marriage and sexuality,” a tack which has led to several dozen bills allowing anyone who holds a state occupational license—including barbers, lawyers, adoption agencies, and health care providers—to deny services to someone based on their religious beliefs.
The playbook is evidence that Republicans are masterminding a coordinated, strategic mass campaign to curb the rights of LGBTQ people, blur the separation of church and state, and supplant the law with evangelical Christian morality—and that they’ve been wildly successful.
Lawmakers voting on these bills don’t necessarily know their origins, making them even more insidious. Rep. Terry Canales was one of only two Democrats who voted for one such bill against adoption agencies in Texas, which passed in 2017. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell if they are protecting or discriminating against someone,” he said—even though the bill was flagged as discriminatory by several human rights organizations—and claimed he’d never heard of Project Blitz. “It’s nearly impossible to know who’s behind them or their intent.”
I would beg to differ: While Project Blitz has been working without any visibility, the intent of the hateful bills they promote is very clear.
Read the full report here.