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Christian nationalists have a new plan to seize more power — meet ‘Project Blitz’

Christian nationalists have a new plan to seize more power -- meet 'Project Blitz'

Mike Pence, the Christian nationalist who would be the root of Trump’s help amongst Evangelicals/Screenshot

Within the 2016 election, Trump acquired 81 % help from white evangelical Christians, and a research by Clemson sociologist Andrew Whitehead and two colleagues (Salon story right here) discovered that “the ‘religious vote’ for Trump was primarily the result of Christian nationalism,” an Previous Testomony-based worldview fusing Christian and American identities that “can be unmoored from traditional moral import emphasizing only its notions of exclusion and apocalyptic war and conquest.”

This text first appeared in Salon.

The concentrating on of excellent Samaritans for deportation, or blaming a refugee household for his or her seven-year-old daughter’s dying in Border Patrol custody are options, not bugs, of the Christian nationalist worldview. By no means thoughts what Matthew 25:35 says: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

This week, new exit-poll knowledge from this yr’s midterm elections re-emphasized how a lot the Trump-led GOP is determined by evangelical voters, as opposed to the a lot more mentioned “white working class.” Amongst white non-evangelicals, non-college-educated males voted for Republicans, 53 to 44 %, whereas ladies voted Democratic by 57 to 41 %. However amongst white evangelicals there was nearly no distinction between school and non-college voters of their GOP help: 78 % amongst males for each teams, and 73 and 71 %, respectively, for ladies.

All this quantities to a flashing purple mild warning that Christian nationalism is crucial and most ignored issue behind Donald Trump’s presidency and the political power of the GOP usually. Nevertheless it’s not simply a passive or latent drive, as Trump’s border cruelty suggests.

Final April, I adopted up Frederick Clarkson’s report at Faith Dispatches about a main Christian nationalist initiative referred to as “Project Blitz,” meant to cross a wide selection of discriminatory legal guidelines by way of state legislatures, from the seemingly innocuous to the blatantly discriminatory. It was based mostly on his discovery of a 116-page evangelical playbook for the 2017-Eight legislative cycle. Now Clarkson’s has uncovered their playbook for the 2019-20 cycle, and might be publishing one other report at Faith Dispatches shortly.

Within the meantime, Clarkson took half in an internet webinar referred to as “Stopping the Blitz: A Coordinated Response to State Campaigns,” hosted by the PFLAG Academy On-line. (A recording is obtainable right here.)  It’s a useful activist useful resource, masking each detailed specifics and broad frameworks for understanding what’s at stake and the way to struggle again. Anybody getting concerned with Indivisible States, for instance, ought to discover it an hour well-spent.

Together with Clarkson, who’s a senior analysis analyst at Political Analysis Associates, presenters included Alison Gill, authorized and coverage director at American Atheists and Elizabeth Reiner Platt, Director of the Public Rights/Personal Conscience Undertaking at Columbia Regulation Faculty. It was hosted by Jamie Henkel, PFLAG’s studying and inclusion supervisor. Clarkson introduced an summary of Undertaking Blitz, together with its background, Gill delved into the elements of Challenge Blitz — legislative “prayer caucuses” shaped to cross laws and the state coverage information Clarkson found to information them — and Platt spoke concerning the which means of spiritual freedom, how the spiritual proper has distorted it, and the way even those that oppose the spiritual proper tacitly might settle for key points of its dishonest framing.

Though she went final, Platt started with a level that belongs entrance and middle, since every thing in Venture Blitz rests on its denial.

“I wanted to step back and start out by reminding everyone that religious liberty is a progressive value,” she stated. “It’s really important to … remind ourselves what religious liberty really is, which is the freedom of individuals and communities to practice their religious beliefs, or to practice no religion, in a pluralistic society, free from government persecution, discrimination or coercion. So this is a foundational constitutional value, and it’s a progressive value.”

It’s additionally mirrored in our unique nationwide motto, coined by the founders:  E pluribus unum — out of many, one.

“We do not often surface a document that fundamentally changes the way we view a subject. In the case of the strategy paper of Project Blitz, we have just that,” Clarkson stated in his introduction. “The Project Blitz playbook shows us that while the Christian right see the bills as distinct, they are also envisioning a political building process that leads to a comprehensive vision of a conservative Christian nation, and even the more totalitarian idea of conservative Christian Dominion.”

Briefly, it’s not progressives, whether or not secular or spiritual, who say that there’s a huge, multi-threaded, right-wing technique concerned. It’s what the spiritual proper’s personal recreation plan says.

Whereas Christian nationalism revolves round “the idea that America was once, and must be again, a Christian nation,” it often permits “some room for religious tolerance on the part of Christian nationalists,” Clarkson defined. However there isn’t a such “tolerance from Dominionists, who have a long-term vision of organizing all of society and government according to their understanding of the Bible.” (In the event you assume that features dying by stoning, the reply is sure, at the very least for some Dominionists, together with Rousas John Rushdoony, generally known as the “father of Christian Reconstructionism.”)

Three classes of proposed legal guidelines

Undertaking Blitz organizes its mannequin payments into three classes, or “phases,” Clarkson defined:

The authors prompt making an attempt the much less controversial payments in part one first. They name these payments  “Legislation Regarding Our Country’s Religious Heritage.” Class or Part 2 Includes looking for “Resolutions and Proclamations Recognizing the Importance of Religious History and Freedom.” The primary two classes of payments are meant to pave the best way for much more critical laws … however suffice to say are decisive strikes in the direction of a more theocratic state, starting with critically eroding the rights of LGBTQ individuals.

“They start with the early phases with what are generally considered harmless or easy to pass low-hanging fruit,” Gill stated, “and basically build momentum to pass more destructive ‘religious-exceptions’ bills that limit equality and freedom.”

“For the most part, these are not directly attacking equality or LGBT people, but instead working build momentum, establish Christian nationalist narratives,” Gill defined. “For example, the display of the national motto in schools, or teaching the religious nature of the U.S. founding, establishing this Christian nationalist narrative. The book would classify this as low hanging fruit in order to basically gain early victories, and establish momentum.”

There are two elementary sorts of sleight-of-hand right here. First, the nationwide motto “In God We Trust” dates from the peak of the McCarthy Pink Scare. However, as Clarkson advised me afterward, “The original motto since 1782, E Pluribus Unum, which still appears on the Great Seal of the United States, much better reflected the founding aspirations of unity amidst diversity.” Christianizing America means erasing the founders’ imaginative and prescient, the precise reverse of what Challenge Blitz pretends.

Second, Venture Blitz is misleading about its true intentions. “It allows [Christian nationalists] to get lawmakers on the record on these issues, and achieve victories that they can then build on and work together as a caucus,” Gill famous. “This is meant to be easy things to achieve that don’t give away the entire project.”

These points appear usually unrelated to particular coverage selections reminiscent of spiritual exemptions on foster care and adoption, or spiritual refusal of medical care, Gill continued. “But the Project Blitz guide shows that they really are related because conceptually this is how the opposition is thinking about these issues, and they’re working to build momentum from one issue to another.”

Moreover, for progressives to “take these issues one by one” is a mistake, Gill stated. “It makes it more difficult to actively oppose them. And as I mentioned, these bills are pushing through the legislature without enough opposition to really stop them, in many cases.”

With out a well-informed opposition, there’s no telling how a lot injury Challenge Blitz might do. “While the ‘In God We Trust’ bills are presented as the least controversial, there is an ugliness that lies just beneath the surface that revealed itself in the wake of debate on the measure in the Minnesota state senate,” Clarkson stated.  “After Democratic Sen. John Marty spoke towards the invoice, he was smeared on Fox Information … falsely described as a part of an ‘anti-faith movement’ that seeks to ‘suppress’ faith and ‘wipe it out of government.’

“Project Blitz strategists thought they could gain political advantage by getting opponents on the record, so their votes and statements could be used against them,” Clarkson continued. At the very least on this case,  it backfired spectacularly.

In a subsequent look on Fox, Marty defended the integrity of his religion and his stance towards the invoice. He insisted that posting “In God We Trust” within the public faculties is offensive to each spiritual believers and the non-religious. And, talking as a Christian, he stated that “the government sanctioned motto does not strengthen our religion, but it demeans, devalues and cheapens our religion.”

Marty defined that he’s “the great-grandson of a Lutheran minister, the grandson of a minister, the son of one, the brother of a minister, and soon, the father of one.” Relatively than proceed to give Marty a platform, the right-wing smears stopped.

“The third category is ‘religious liberty’ protection legislation, and this is the real attack on equality, and the most impactful policy changes” Gill stated. “For example, policy statements that are passed as resolutions that favor married heterosexual couples, or maintenance of birth gender, which is a very awkward phrase I’d never heard before seeing it in this document.” Payments on this class, “are basically religious exceptions to the law, either broader or more narrow … that would allow people to discriminate on the basis of their religion.”

Regaining readability on spiritual freedom

That is the place Platt’s evaluation turns into important. “The Christian right has been extremely effective over the past five or so years in branding progressives as anti-religious freedom, even while we know at the same time the far right and the Trump administration, is quite overtly attacking religious freedom through the promulgation of Islamophobic policies like the Muslim ban,” Platt famous. “They’ve managed to conflate that term with particular, narrow protections for conservative religious beliefs about sex, marriage and reproduction, while totally ignoring the enormous variety of views that we know people of faith – including Christians – have had on these matters. And, of course, ignoring completely the very existence of LGBTQ people of faith.”

Most significantly, Platt identified, “The primary way that they’ve been able to do this is by framing the issue of religious exemption as an absolute zero-sum conflict between the value of religious liberty on the one hand, and secular values like LGBTQ rights or abortion rights on the other.” The one approach to resolve this battle is by way of spiritual exemptions.

“On these terms, within this sort of zero-sum conflict, they manage to elicit quite a bit of sympathy from institutional actors, I can think, most notably, of someone like Justice [Anthony] Kennedy, who to some extent supports LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights … but just feels very deeply uncomfortable coming off in any way as seeming to be anti-religious liberty.” Each in Obergefell (which legalized same-sex marriage) and Masterpiece Cake Store (which allowed spiritual discrimination), Platt stated that it was evident in Kennedy’s opinions that he was “involved about being perceived as being condemning anybody who holds conservative spiritual perception about intercourse and marriage.

“Even opponents of these Project Blitz exemption bills have sort of bought into this framework of accepting certain exemption bills as protective of religious liberty,” Platt continued. “For example, when we argue against a law that specifically exempts religious objectors to a civil rights law by saying, ‘Well, religious liberty isn’t an excuse to discriminate,’ or ‘Religious liberty is a shield, but not a sword,’ I think there’s a way in which we’re playing on their turf by assuming that this explicitly anti-LGBTQ law is actually in furtherance of religious liberty in the first instance.”

Her level might sound delicate, however it’s crucially essential. “We’re sort of accepting this conflict between the value of religious liberty, and the value of LGBTQ people’s civil rights and we’re just saying that we think that the civil rights should win out,” Platt stated. “But I think a very strong argument can be made that the exemption bills that carve about narrow exceptions for conservative religious views don’t protect religious liberty at all, and in fact do the opposite.”

All of it comes again to fundamentals, Platt defined: “If we know anything about the First Amendment, and about religious liberty law, it’s that the government should not single out certain theological views for special protection, especially at the expense of other peoples who don’t share those views. So at my project we have tried to be careful in reframing the way we talk about religious exemption to make sure we are clear that exemptions that advance conservative religious beliefs are not just bad for secular people and are not just bad for LGBT people or for women. They’re actually really harmful to religious liberty and religious plurality.”

Within the Masterpiece Cake Store opinion, “There’s a real focus … on the importance of religious neutrality,” she stated. “But a law that singles out only conservative religious views on sex, marriage and reproduction for this kind of sweeping exemption from all sorts of different laws — that’s not treating religion neutrally. It’s placing the government in a position of taking a theological stance on a particular religious belief that deserves total exemption from the law.”

That’s precisely what authorities institution of faith seems to be like. It’s the very negation of the First Modification. However that’s not the one contradiction.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the court quickly abandoned its commitment to religious neutrality last session,” Platt stated. “Just about week after Masterpiece Cake Shop, it issued its opinion in Trump v. Hawaii, the Muslim ban case, where the court not only overlooked the commitment to neutrality, it refused to even look behind the Trump administration’s proffered non-discriminatory motive for enacting that travel ban, with a very clear evidence that it was being motivated by Islamophobic animus.”

Platt recognized 3 ways the Challenge Blitz exemption payments “”restrict moderately than improve spiritual liberties.” First, they favor sure views, quite than defending everybody’s views. Second, “they require people to subsidize religious beliefs that they don’t themselves hold.” And third, “some of the proposed exemptions overtly allow discrimination against religious minorities,” corresponding to a recently-passed Texas invoice that “allows religious foster care agencies to refuse to place children in non-Christian families.”

Slightly than seeing spiritual freedom in zero-sum battle with civil rights regulation, Platt prompt the other is true. “Civil rights legal guidelines are what permits spiritual minorities to take part within the public financial system with out having to cover their religion. So carving holes in civil rights regulation actually harms the reason for spiritual liberty.

“My take away from all of this would just be don’t play on their turf,” Platt stated. “Don’t buy into their idea that all religious exemptions enhance religious liberty, and don’t buy into an inherent conflict between religious liberty and civil rights. These exemptions are … actually violating religious liberty.”

Challenge Blitz’s two elements

With these insights in thoughts, let’s return to some more of Gill’s detailed account of Venture Blitz’s two elements. First, she defined, “These prayer caucuses are fairly misleading. Lawmakers who are members of the prayer caucuses may not be aware that the prayer caucuses are a part of Project Blitz, or even aware what Project Blitz is. A prayer caucus sort of signifies a caucus devoted to religion or faith or prayer, and doesn’t necessarily indicate that it’s a right-wing project to push for really conservative legislation.”

This deception is completely in line with the essential character of Challenge Blitz. By deceiving caucus members about its final objectives and functions, it might then deceive others as properly. “This has been used to … create legitimacy for the bills that the prayers caucuses move forward with,” Gill stated. “And this happened in several states to bring both Democrats into the prayer caucus to introduce or support bills, even though they might oppose some of the other aims of Project Blitz.”

The second element is the state coverage information, together with the three classes of payments I’ve already mentioned. As well as to these classes and the mannequin laws in them, there are additionally speaking factors and assets. “Interestingly, they include common arguments that they think the opposition — that is us — will use, and they talk about how to defuse our talking points, and how you basically work around them,” Gill famous.

What’s subsequent from Undertaking Blitz

Gill moved on to talk about what to anticipate from Undertaking Blitz this coming yr. First is payments they’ve had some success with final yr — “In God We Trust” payments and non secular exceptions in foster care and adoption. Second, within the wake of the Masterpiece Cake Store choice, more “First Amendment Defense Acts,” aimed toward increasing spiritual exceptions. Third, the Challenge Blitz coverage information highlights three areas they intend to concentrate on.

“The first is establishing ‘In God We trust’ license plates,” which can be utilized to donate cash to totally different organizations or causes, “in some states to even fund organizations that are opposed to LGBT equality. … It’s not only about starting to spread this Christian nationalist narrative, it also can be used to fund negative causes,” Gill stated.

“It’s of a piece with the wider effort to promote the display of the national motto everywhere they can. In this case via what they call ‘moving billboards,’” Clarkson added in a followup e mail.  “Project Blitz claims … that the phrase has no specific religious meaning. But this is belied by the mission statement of the main sponsoring organization. They say they are promoting ‘the Judeo-Christian heritage’ of the country as they see it. There is, of course, little that can be construed as ‘Judeo’ about their vision.”

He went to word, “It’s true that many backers of the slogan saw it as broadly inclusive enough when it was first adopted by Congress as the national motto in the ’50s.  But of course it does not include polytheistic and non-theistic minority religions or those who hold to no religious beliefs. By today’s standards it is rightly seen as exclusivist and offensive.” He once more referred to John Marty, the Minnesota state senator, who “objects in part because he sees it as so generic and watered-down that it offends his own deep Christian beliefs.”

More broadly, Clarkson famous, “The backers of Project Blitz, notably David Barton, are at least Christian nationalists, and in some cases, overt Dominionists. This agenda is clear in the wider context of the Project Blitz legislative package. They see the ‘In God We Trust’ campaign as a step in the direction of their more oppressive legislation, as well as helping to build the political movement required to get it done.”

The second space highlighted can be “resolutions to establish public policy favoring heterosexual married sexual relations,” Gill stated, resolutions that include a lot of “medical garbage … statistics and other sorts of language talking about how heterosexual married sexual relations are the only healthy kind, and that LGBT people are unhealthy or destructive.”

I discovered this puzzling, since Venture Blitz can’t outlaw homosexual marriage, regardless of how a lot its supporters might want to. I requested Clarkson what the aim of such resolutions may be.

“Their apparent purpose,” he stated, “is to help persuade legislators and executive branch program administrators that not only religious but public health exemptions from the law need to be created and perhaps litigated, to chip away at marriage equality, in the sense that not all marriages need be treated equally under the law. But also to erode the rights of LGBTQ people generally.”

Clarkson elaborated on the “medical garbage” behind such resolutions. “There are pages and pages of material of questionable scientific value about LGBTQ people, but there is nothing about public health and medical data regarding heterosexuals,” he stated. “For example, the costs of heart disease so prevalent among men or obesity in the population at large. Focusing a telescopic lens on certain data, without qualification, to the exclusion of all else is obvious, bigoted fear-mongering.”

The third space Gill cited was “religious speech in public schools, so teachers and students [may] engage in prayer in public schools.”  Clarkson provided more info.

There is a guidance issued by the Department of Education in 2003 that established guidelines regarding private religious expression in public schools, aimed primarily at certifying that schools are accommodating prayer during both instructional and non-instructional time,” Clarkson responded. ‘Christian proper teams really feel that it has been inadequately enforced through the years.”

Frankly, that steerage doesn’t appear particularly useful to the Christian proper’s trigger. It reads partially:

The Supreme Courtroom’s selections over the previous forty years set forth rules that distinguish impermissible governmental spiritual speech from the constitutionally protected personal spiritual speech of scholars. For instance, academics and different public faculty officers might not lead their courses in prayer, devotional readings from the Bible, or different spiritual actions. Nor might faculty officers try to persuade or compel college students to take part in prayer or different spiritual actions. Such conduct is “attributable to the State” and thus violates the Institution Clause.

So what are they making an attempt to accomplish right here? “I think it has to do with getting states on board with enforcement and compliance,” Clarkson replied. “Getting all the states to focus on enforcement and getting that administrative piece in place may allow them to push the boundaries of the meaning of religious expression in the public schools. It may also set the stage for litigation against state, local and regional school boards.”

What all this exhibits is an more and more complicated battlefield unfolding. The more particular exemptions are allowed beneath regulation, the more they are going to be used to open new battlefronts. And there’s probably no finish in sight.

In his closing remarks in the course of the webinar, Clarkson stated he needed to “underscore that Project Blitz is a serious effort” and that “whatever the ups and downs” of Christian nationalists’ political fortunes could be, they’re on this for the lengthy haul. Progressives want a comparable mindset. “What we learn about all this now,” he concluded, “especially about what they have learned, will serve us well going forward.”

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