State legislatures around the country started coming back in session last month. While the Trump administration's continued attacks on church-state separation keep making headlines, the fight to protect religious freedom in the states can't be ignored.
Each year, Americans United monitors hundreds of bills working their way through state legislatures, and we organize local activists to oppose legislation that would harm religious freedom. Last year we tracked more than 500 bills, and we expect to do the same for the 2020 session. While we don't have a crystal ball, the bills already filed and the influence of harmful Trump administration policies give us an idea of some trends we expect to see this year.
State legislators will continue to copy model bills that harm church-state separation, including those from the Project Blitz playbook. Project Blitz is a nationwide political movement to impose a narrow set of religious beliefs on our state laws and ultimately establish the U.S. as a Christian nation. Many of the bills pushed by the organizers of this agenda harm our public school students. Already we know we will have to fight 30 Project Blitz bills this year--with many more coming down the pike. (See "Project Blitz 2.0," January 2020 Church & State.)
The Project Blitz playbook starts with bills like HB 1346 in Missouri, which would require public schools to display "In God We Trust" signs, and HB 341 in Florida, which would mandate that public schools offer Bible classes. These bills aim to promote Christianity in public schools, and to lay the groundwork for future bills that would misuse religious freedom to justify discrimination.
Last year, AU coordinated 43 national organizations to oppose Project Blitz because its goal is to tear down the separation of religion and government incrementally.
We've also seen a troubling trend across the country of bills that would allow religious discrimination--like the one Indiana's then-Gov. Mike Pence signed in 2015. With the Trump-Pence administration pushing out federal policies month after month that allow religious freedom to be misused to justify discrimination, we have no doubt the states will continue to follow suit.
For instance, Tennessee's HB 836 would allow taxpayer-funded agencies to turn away couples seeking to foster or adopt children because they are LGBTQ or the "wrong"...