In 2017, Florida lawmakers bizarrely spent a bunch of time passing a bill that forces the state to display “In God We Trust” in public schools. As it turns out, that was just the beginning of a pro-Christian legislative push in Florida: State lawmakers — namely Jacksonville State Rep. Kim Daniels, a former “exorcist” turned pro-Trump Democrat — in 2018 attempted to pass a “religious freedom” bill that gave kids extra rights to pray at school.
This year, Daniels and six cosponsors are pushing HB 195, another odd measure that would force public schools to offer Bible-study electives. But secular groups are crying foul. As it turns out, all of the aforementioned bills are a part of a national push by Christian government lobbying groups called “Project Blitz,” an initiative pushed by the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, National Legal Foundation, and Wallbuilders — three pro-Christian legislative groups.
Earlier this week, the nonprofit Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a religious-liberty “watchdog” group, sent the Florida House’s “PreK-12 Quality” Subcommittee an open letter warning that the bill appears to be part of the national legislative push.
“Bible class bills like HB 195 are part of the Project Blitz playbook,” a portion of the letter warns. “The playbook starts with ‘In God We Trust’ bills, which Florida passed last year, and Bible class bills. It then escalates to bills that promote public-school-sponsored prayer. The final step in its plan is passing bills that would weaponize religious freedom as a means to discriminate, transforming religious freedom from a shield that protects toa sword that harms others.”
In fact, Daniels’ bill is almost verbatim copied and pasted from legislative language shared by the groups pushing Project Blitz. A near-identical dummy version of the bill appears in a 2017 legislative guide from the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation first dug up by the Guardian in June 2018. (In May 2018, a New York Times opinion columnist warned that “Project Blitz” is an attempt by “Christian nationalists” and “religious extremists” to “secure a privileged position in society for their version of Christianity.”) Daniels’ bill is one of 13 very similar bills filed nationwide this year. In January, the Guardian stated that Daniels’ “In God We Trust” bill was clearly part of a nationwide Christian legislative push.
Daniels, who was first elected in 2016 after a multiyear career in local Jacksonville politics, did not respond to a message from New Timesyesterday. But it’s far from surprising she’d be one of the chief lawmakers pushing a plan like this. She’s written 13 books on Christian spirituality, including multiple books on demonology and exorcism. She refers to herself as the “Demonbuster.” She’s claimed that everything and everyone — from CNN to Barack Obama, those on The View, Halloween candy, same-sex couples, and transgender people — have been possessed by demons and/or witches and/or evil spirits. She’s said vodou priests have sent demon-birds to attack her and that her home was once possessed by giant, evil cockroaches and ants. She’s also admitted to filing false campaign-finance reports. And she loves Donald Trump.
The Project Blitz playbook worryingly calls for legislators to use “religious freedom” as an excuse to discriminate against various groups — the LGBTQ community in particular. The playbook is chock-full of offensive and bigoted statements about LGBTQ people, including claims that “homosexual intercourse and gender confusion” cause “enormous costs” to society. Playbook groups call for legislators to pass laws “favoring intimate sexual relations” between married, heterosexual partners. The groups also claim people in same-sex relationships are somehow more likely to develop cancer than straight people.
Other playbook suggestions include laws that would “encourage” citizens not to come out as transgender or identify as anything but cisgender, bills to crack down on abortion in myriad ways, and bills that would prevent states from letting same-sex couples adopt children.
In 2014, the head of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, Lea Carawan, reportedly stated that the “separation of church and state” is a “liberal plan to ruin America” and will be “the death knell for our nation.”
Some watchdog groups have caught on to the plan, though. Maggie Garrett, the vice president of public policy for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, has been closely monitoring the bill’s progress in Florida. She told New Times yesterday that although the Project Blitz playbook has only been public for a few years, some states have already debated or passed some of its most damaging provisions.
“Project Blitz is a coordinated national network to codify their narrow vision of a ‘Christian nation’ into law,” she explained. “There are three categories of bills: They start out with bills, like putting ‘In God We Trust,’ in schools, and like the Bible class bill that Florida is debating now. But in tier three, pass bills that would use religion to harm others.”
She added that even many Christian and religious groups oppose legislative tactics like this. Her organization, for example, is part of a 43-group coalition formed to fight Project Blitz. It includes nonreligious organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as numerous religious and Christian groups, including the National Council of Churches and the Episcopal Church. The alliance recently published an open letter stating that Project Blitz will likely erode the separation of church and state. A portion of the letter reads:
Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. It is a shield that protects everyone — the religious and nonreligious alike. Yet, an alarming effort is underway to harness the power of the government to impose the faith of some onto everyone else, including our public school students. This effort seeks to transform religious freedom into a sword that can be used to harm others, undermining important civil rights protections and healthcare access, especially for women, LGBTQ people, those of minority faiths, and the nonreligious.
We are united against these efforts.
Garrett noted that Florida already allows schools to voluntarily offer secular Bible-study electives in schools, so it’s odd Daniels would push for a bill to make the electives mandatory. Her bill calls for three specific classes — one on the Bible and two separate classes on the Old and New Testaments. The Project Blitz playbook calls for the same.
“The problem here, of course, is that they want to teach one particular religious text,” Garett said. “That is often the problem in how these ‘Bible courses’ turn into ‘Sunday-school courses’ in public school systems.”
An incident yesterday perfectly illustrated that point. In a Florida House committee meeting on Thursday, Central Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, a progressive Democrat, asked Daniels if she’d consider adding a standalone course on the Muslim Quran to preserve the bill’s fairness and objectivity.
“No,” Daniels reportedly replied.
Author: Jerry Iannelli