At the beginning of 2018, when Americans United's legislative staff members were tracking new state proposals affecting church-state separation, they noticed an unusual trend: More than two dozen bills calling for the display of "In God We Trust" in public schools had been proposed in states across the country.
Compared to the three "In God We Trust" bills proposed a year earlier, this was a marked increase. AU recognized a coordinated effort similar to those made by conservative lobbying groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and state Focus on the Family affiliates that suggest model legislation to state lawmakers.
Working alongside Frederick Clarkson, an AU ally and veteran researcher of the Religious Right, AU soon discovered who was behind the "In God We Trust" bills and dozens more model bills attacking church-state separation: far-right evangelical Christian groups-including the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (CPCF), Wall-Builders, and the National Legal Foundation-which had banded together to launch an initiative they call "Project Blitz."
Project Blitz is described as an effort to push "traditional Judeo-Christian religious values and beliefs in the public square, and to reclaim and properly define the narrative which supports such beliefs."
Americans United takes issue with that. In an analysis prepared for religious-freedom advocates concerned about the initiative's true agenda, Americans United translates the mission statement as follows: "Project Blitz is a coordinated national effort working to codify a far-right, evangelical Christian America. It is part of a national trend to redefine religious liberty as a sword used to harm others instead of a shield that protects people."
In a 116-page Project Blitz playbook that was distributed to over 750 state legislators, its architects lay out a game plan in which the "In God We Trust" bills are just the beginning because "[t]hey are likely to receive the least opposition," particularly from "organized outside" opponents.
"Despite arguments that this type of legislation is not needed, measures such as the 'In God We Trust' bill can have enormous impact," the playbook assures. "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."
They divide Project Blitz's priorities and 20 model bills into three escalating categories. First, Project Blitz focuses on legislation aimed especially at "young students" to promote "our Judeo-Christian heritage" in public education. In addition to the sample National Motto Display Act to post "In God We Trust" in public buildings, especially schools, this category includes sample bills encouraging the display of religious documents and "Bible literacy" curriculum. The playbook cites a Bible-literacy law passed in Kentucky last year that an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) investigation determined has...