An Ohio legislator who said he had “no knowledge” of a rightwing Christian bill mill called Project Blitz is, in fact, the co-chair of the state branch of an organization behind the campaign.
The Ohio state representative Timothy Ginter sponsored a bill called the Student Religious Liberties Act. Opponents argued the bill would provide students with a religious exemption to facts, and would frighten teachers and school administrators into including religion in school functions.
The Guardian revealed the bill was nearly identical to one promoted by Project Blitz, a state legislative project guided by three Christian right organizations, including the Congressional Prayer Caucus (CPC), WallBuilders and the ProFamily Legislators Conference. Project Blitz aims to promote and help pass conservative legislation across the US to fulfil its rightwing Chrisitan agenda.
When initially approached, Ginter told the Guardian in an email from a legislative aide that he had “no knowledge of ‘Project Blitz’ and has not been working with WallBuilders or the Congressional Prayer Caucus”.
However, a screenshot shows Ginter was listed as the co-chair of the Ohio Prayer Caucus, the state chapter of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, as recently as January 2019. Ginter’s former chief of staff, Chris Albanese, is currently listed as the state director of the state chapter of CPC, Ohio Prayer Caucus.
“I would call it an outright lie,” said Frederick Clarkson, a senior research analyst with Political Research Associates, and an expert on the Christian right. “The Prayer Caucus in the states are the action arm of Project Blitz – it is Project Blitz,” he said. “When he told you, ‘I’ve never heard of Project Blitz,’ that was a lie,” said Clarkson.
The Guardian repeatedly called and emailed both Ginter and the the Republican Ohio house speaker, Larry Householder. Neither responded to these phone or email requests.
In a statement at the time, Ginter argued the bill was necessary because, “well-funded groups” were intimidating school officials with “the thread of litigation”. His bill, he argued, would clarify their responsibilities.
Ginter also argued the Student Religious Liberties Bill was not a Christian bill, because it does not explicitly mention Christianity. However, the Ohio Prayer Caucus he co-chaired explicitly lays out that it support legislators “who are standing for faith, morality and Judeo-Christian principles”.
The Congressional Prayer Caucus also circulated an Ohio Prayer Proclamation. Among its signers are Ginter; the former representative Bill Hayes, who originally sponsored the bill; and the former House speaker Cliff Rosenberger. Rosenberger resigned in 2018 after a search warrant and subpoena revealed the FBI was investigating Rosenberger for corruption involving three payday lending representatives, according to the Dayton Daily News.
Prominent defenders of religious liberties, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Anti-Defamation League, oppose the legislation. Republicans in the Ohio House passed the legislation with a party-line vote in November. It has not yet been taken up by the Ohio senate.