In April 2018, PRA Senior Research Analyst Frederick Clarkson learned of a Christian Right state legislative playbook hiding in plain sight on the web site of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation.
The playbook was the centerpiece of a national campaign for Christian Right legislation called Project Blitz. The campaign’s stated purpose is: “To protect the free exercise of traditional Judeo-Christian religious values and beliefs in the public square, and to reclaim and properly define the narrative which supports such beliefs.” But its more explicitly Dominionist agenda becomes clear in the manual where organizers frame model resolutions on heterosexual marriage, gender, and adoption as intended to advance “biblical values.”
The Project Blitz playbook is a collection of 20 model bills and a distillation of best practices and lessons learned. It provided a roadmap and sample language for Christian Right state legislators to propose legislation that ranged from requiring public schools to display the national motto, “In God We Trust”; to legalizing discrimination against LGBTQ people; to religious exemptions regarding women’s reproductive health. The year that Clarkson made his discovery, more than 70 bills were introduced that were based on, or were similar in intent to, the model bills. Bills allowing or requiring the display of the national motto, “In God We Trust,” in public schools and other buildings passed in five states.
Clarkson knew PRA needed to act fast — and published an expose in Religion Dispatches. This led to national coverage in The New York Times, Salon, The Guardian, Religion News Service, USA Today, Church & State Magazine and many more. It also led to briefings and webinars for national groups, and the formation of the BlitzWatch Coalition, to monitor, track, and defeat attempts by Christian Nationalists to implement their Dominionist vision for the United States. The Coalition to this day includes American Atheists, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, The Interfaith Alliance, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, to name a few,.
In the Fall of 2019, the secretive Project Blitz became even more secretive. When we first reported on Project Blitz, the website featured their annual state legislative playbook, they also publicly named the members of the State Legislative Prayer Caucuses that drew on the model bills for their own legislation. But the ongoing public scrutiny, Clarkson’s expose of a second playbook in Religion Dispatches, and further unwanted media attention led the sponsoring Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation to scrub everything under the rubric of Project Blitz from their site. And politicians ran for cover. One Ohio state senator went so far as to lie to a reporter about even knowing about Project Blitz—despite being the state’s co-chair at the time.
The public exposure and fierce opposition to the Dominionist driven Christian nationalist agenda of Project Blitz defanged the campaign, and forced it to go low profile and a lot of politicians to keep their distance.
They’ve added some new bills—including a dramatic attack on the integrity of public libraries—but the Dominionism-driven Christian nationalist agenda remains the same. The playbooks advise legislators to cloak their religious mission in the guise of more secular intentions and they’ve renamed several bills to make them sound more appealing.
In 2020, depending on how one counts, 92 Blitz bills were introduced, 8 of which passed. In 2021, so far, 74 bills have been introduced, 14 of which have passed, according to BlitzWatch.
But the newly-surfaced playbooks also tell a story of the resilience of democratic institutions and leaders in the face of movements seeking to undermine or end them.
The ongoing exposure and response to Project Blitz has taught us several things. First, that it’s possible to stand up to and prevail against anti-democratic movements and measures, and that our democratic institutions are more resilient than they sometimes seem. Sen. John Marty demonstrated this when he spoke up for the integrity of his faith and stood down a national smear campaign led by Fox News. Librarians and their allies showed that, even in the face of demagogic attacks on the competence and integrity of public libraries, state legislators could be made to see reason. Efforts since 2018 by scores of national organizations organized by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and BlitzWatch, have also shown that it’s possible to defend democracy and its institutions against a secretive and formidable opponent of democratic values, and of democracy itself. What’s more, journalism has once again shown that sunlight remains the best disinfectant.