Bias Watch

State legislatures are filled with anti-LGBTQ measures, thanks to a religious right playbook

State legislatures are filled with anti-LGBTQ measures, thanks to a religious right playbook
Photo: Billion Photos/Shutterstock

If you have ever wondered why legislators in different states introduce oddly similar legislation targeting LGBTQ rights, there might be a simple explanation. They’re getting cut-and-paste templates and detailed legislative strategy from a religious right group.

Project Blitz was founded in 2016 by now-former U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, as a kind of outgrowth of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, which Forbes also founded. Forbes is probably best remembered for his push in 2013 to have the GOP refuse to fund gay candidates. Unsurprisingly, Forbes kept racking up 0% voting scores from the Human Rights Campaign during his tenure in Congress.

Related: A new religious right think tank thinks Jesus’ teachings are too liberal

Project Blitz also routinely joined forces with a variety of Christian Right groups and figures, including David Barton. Barton can be described best as a Christian nationalist who would love nothing more than to see America become a theocracy and outlaw homosexuality. Unsurprisingly, that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a favorite with GOP politicians.

While Project Blitz would like to remain out of sight, thanks to the hard work of Frederick Clarkson at Political Research Associates, we know a lot about the group – and it’s not pretty.

Clarkson secured Project Blitz’s 116-page playbook for legislative success. It outlines three categories for focus – the first is “legislation regarding our country’s religious heritage,” which is another way of saying bills that seek to promote the idea that America was founded on “Christian principles.” The second category is “resolutions and proclamations recognizing the importance of religious history and freedom.” These are symbolic, since they don’t have the weight of law, but still important.

The third category is “religious liberty protection legislation.” This, of course, is the bread-and-butter of the religious right’s current legislative offensive. And it’s on full display going into the new legislative cycle.

Republicans in several states have introduced bills that allow for discrimination on the grounds of religious belief. Kentucky has a bill that would let non-emergency medical providers deny services to LGBTQ people. Missouri and Tennessee have bills pending that would allow adoption agencies to deny same-sex couples for “sincerely held religious beliefs” (Missouri) or “religious or moral convictions” (Tennessee).

Republicans in state legislature are targeting trans youth in particular. South Dakota would make providing transgender health care to minors a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison. Six other states are considering similar Republican-sponsored bills to punish (and potential imprison) physicians who treat trans minors with puberty-blocking drugs or other treatments. The bills carry such names as the “Vulnerable Child Protection Act.”

Seven states are also considering legislation to ban trans athletes from competing with the gender with which they identify. In Alabama, the Gender Is Real Legislative (GIRL) Act would ban public schools from participating in any sports event that allowed trans athletes to compete.

Legislators have even gotten the occasional idea to attach these measures to other, important legislation. In Indiana, the American Family Association is lobbying against a bill to have behavioral health professionals screen students to determine if they are at risk and need help. AFA Indiana is convinced that this will lead to “an attempt to ‘re-educate’ hundreds of thousands of children in order to change their attitudes, values and beliefs, including religious beliefs!” The fact that LGBTQ students are disproportionately at risk is no doubt a factor in the group’s opposition.

Americans United, which tracks the religious right, says that so far this year 45 measures, including Tennessee’s anti-adoption bill, originated with Project Blitz – but just how many other anti-LGBTQ bills and amendments they have influenced may go beyond measurable lengths.

Certainly, many of the bills were introduced by Republicans looking to score points and will never make it into law, but some of these bills will undoubtedly will succeed. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has already signed that state’s anti-gay adoption bill.

After years of playing defense, the religious right is now on the offense. The battles taking place in the legislatures are yet another reminder that it’s not just the presidential election that will count this year.

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