Wednesday, October 17, 2018
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‘Project Blitz’ Pushing Christian Right Agenda in State Legislatures

Interview with Frederick Clarkson, senior fellow Political Research Associates, conducted by Scot Harris

Conservative Christian evangelicals have been an important part of the Republican Party coalition since 1980 when Ronald Reagan unexpectedly defeated Jimmy Carter in the presidential election that year.  For nearly 40 years, the Christian Right has held a critical seat at the table when the GOP formulates its policy positions on a wide range of social issues including same sex marriage, abortion and transgender bathroom assignments.
According to exit polls, some 81 percent of Christian evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and a recent Public Religion Research Institute poll conducted in March found that 75 percent of white evangelicals surveyed still had a positive opinion of the president.  Since 2016 Republicans control all branches of the federal government, are in charge of 32 state legislatures and hold all levers of power in 26 states that also elected GOP governors.
With Republican’s current lopsided hold on political power across the nation, the Christian right is very much aware of this unique moment in political history, and heavily focused on winning legislative battles while they can. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Frederick Clarkson, a senior fellow with Political Research Associates and author, who talks about “Project Blitz,” a sophisticated operation he recently exposed, that has written model legislation, and is now pushing for the adoption of Christian nationalist-inspired laws in state legislatures across the U.S.

FREDERICK CARLSON: Well, I can’t say that I did it entirely myself. A friend happened to stumble across it and said, I better tell a friend about this, knowing that I’ve been doing work on religious freedom-related issues for a long time. And, sure enough, you visit the website and you can still find it there to this day, I think. There it was, kind of buried in the website, a little hard to find, but it’s there hidden in plain sight. This 116-page strategy manual that offers 20 model bills about various aspects of the Christian right agenda all under the rubric of religious freedom. So there’s everything there from a model bills that would allow or require schools to post “In God We Trust” in the public schools. Other things would be resolutions. The state legislatures could pass allow honoring religious freedom day, but the more serious kinds of things are model legislation that would seriously affect the civil rights, particularly of gay and lesbian people by legalizing many of the things that were at issue in the Masterpiece Cake Shop, the decision the Supreme Court decided today.

So, if you were a business, you would – as a matter of religious conscience – not have to serve gay people. It was also a bill that would allow religious institutions not to be involved in adoption or foster care services for same sex couples. And it goes down the line in that way. So it’s a very serious and very considered legislative package. And I say that because they’ve taken the time to study what’s going on around the country, seen what’s worked and hasn’t worked, and to seriously learn from what has been happening so that they can do better going forward. And it comes complete with talking points and the general vision of the legislative strategy and the resources to back up legislative proposals if they’re made. So it’s a really remarkable document and I have to say in 30-plus years of doing research in this area, I’ve never seen anything like it.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Since you’ve written your article in late April and it’s gotten some publicity here in the U.S. and the U.S. press, not as much as it deserves of course, but what’s the response of some civil society groups who are certainly finding themselves on the opposite side of this “Project Blitz” Christian right agenda. And what if anything is percolating in terms of organizing opposition to this Christian nationalist agenda in state legislatures?

FREDERICK CARLSON: Well, we’re at a very early stage, but I will say that a group like the Interfaith Alliance and Americans United for Separation of Church and State are very concerned about it and want to do something, as does the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. My organization, Political Research Associates, organized a webinar a week or so ago with the Public Rights, Private Conscience Project at Columbia Law School and Americans United for Separation of Church and State and got about 80 leaders to participate in that to begin to get a grounding of what this means – what’s new and what’s different here and how should we begin to think about it.

And I’ll be involved in a similar kind of webinar on Wednesday beginning to speak to LGBTQ activist groups and involved in the states who are understandably interested in and concerned and beginning to get their minds around it, too. So I think we will be seeing state and national interest groups figure it out. State legislative sessions are pretty much over for this year, but there’s time to think about what to do for next year. And I think that’s what we’ll all be all be thinking about.
Frederick Clarkson is a senior fellow with Political Research Associates and author of the recent article titled, “‘Project Blitz’ Seeks to do for Christian Nationalism What ALEC Does for Big Business.” This interview was previously broadcast on June 6, 2018. 

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