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Amendment 8: Should Florida's constitution be changed to allow religious institutions to receive taxpayer funding?
Joe Saunders
On Nov. 6, Florida voters will decide whether to remove the prohibition against sending taxpayer dollars to religious institutions, which would have a big impact on religious schools. Supporters say the provision is rooted in bias against religious organizations that do good work; opponents say it would violate the separation of church and state. Below, we hear from both sides in this knotty debate. What do you think?
Mike Hill
Director, Citizens for Religious Freedom & Non-Discrimination

Throughout the history of our country, federal, state and local governments have partnered with non-profit groups, including religious organizations, to provide essential community, educational and social services to those in need. These partnerships have always existed within the safeguards of the U.S.

Constitution that protect religious freedom when used to a secular end, but they are now vulnerable in Florida because of antiquated and anti-religious language currently in the state constitution.

This is not speculation. Consider the current constitutional challenge to a prison ministries program aimed at keeping convicts from returning to the streets with more criminal intent. This case was filed by the Council for Secular Humanism, which is based in Amherst, N.Y. After one favorable appellate court ruling, the organization referred to the matter as a “potential watershed moment” and a “springboard” to other actions, both within and outside Florida as some 36 states in addition to Florida have similar No Aid amendments to their constitutions.

Thus, the threat to religious-based charities in Florida is real.

The history of the No Aid amendment began in the latter part of the 19th Century, when former speaker of the U.S. House James Blaine proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution aimed at preventing Catholic churches from establishing schools in a system of public education, which at that time was dominated by Protestant schools. He did not succeed, but 37 states, including Florida, passed their own “Blaine” amendments.

That provision in Florida has survived through various iterations of the constitution. However, its relevance and necessity are now in question. The provision is more prohibitive than the U.S. Constitution as it states: “No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”

This No Aid clause could shut down any of the long-standing relationships between government and faith-based providers that are cherished by Floridians because they are religiously neutral and do not coerce non-believers. The list is long and diverse: food pantries for low-income families; housing assistance programs; foster care agencies; substance abuse treatment and recovery programs; pre-natal and pregnancy care centers; prison ministries and religious affiliated universities and hospitals providing Medicaid services, as well as HIV prevention programs.

This is a wrong that must be corrected. We must protect non-profit and religious organizations and individuals from this blatant discrimination. We oppose discrimination against religious organizations and individuals simply because they are called by their faith to provide services for the common good of all Floridians, regardless of their faith.

We urge Floridians to vote “yes” on Amendment 8, removing the more prohibitive clause from the state constitution, but leaving in place the protections intended to stop government from forcing any religion upon its people. We need Amendment 8 to preserve a healthy balance and not remove good and trusted providers from the public square.


Andy Ford
President, Florida Education Association

Our political leaders should always strive for clarity in public policy issues. They should always provide clear rationale and clear objectives for the laws they pass and the proposals they forward. We can’t know all the consequences before a law is enacted, but lawmakers and voters alike should have a pretty good idea.

The leadership of the Florida Legislature put Amendment 8 on the ballot for voters to consider in the November election. They titled the amendment “Religious Freedom” and proponents have said that this merely brings the Florida Constitution in line with the protections in the U.S. Constitution. But Florida lawmakers had quite a different purpose in mind.

The language in the proposed amendment would not make provisions in the Florida Constitution on religious beliefs “consistent” with the U.S. Constitution. In fact, it would give religious institutions greater entitlement to governmental funds than in the U.S. Constitution.

The real goal of Amendment 8 is to give the Legislature the power to promote taxpayer-financed school vouchers that would require Floridians to subsidize private religious schools. Throughout the country, voters have consistently rejected plans to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize private religious education. The difference here is that the language in Amendment 8 doesn’t clearly indicate that that is one of the main purposes for placing this amendment on the ballot.

This constitutional amendment would strip away current religious freedom protections by allowing public tax dollars to go to religious programs and religious schools. And because Amendment 8 requires no oversight and accountability, we could see misuse of tax dollars in wide array of ways.

Vouchers force taxpayers to fund religious education. Religious schools do not separate religious from secular instruction. Any taxpayer money that goes toward religious-school tuition would therefore fund students' religious training.

Our political leaders should play it straight with us. They shouldn’t hide the true intent of their actions under a title like “Religious Freedom,” a concept that all of us embrace. They should be providing leadership for the citizens of our state, not trying to snooker us.

David Barkey
Religious Freedom Counsel, Anti-Defamation League

Florida Ballot Amendment 8 – the so-called “Religious Freedom” Amendment – has nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with taxpayer funding of houses of worship. This misleading and confusing measure on the Nov. 6 ballot seeks to fool Floridians into voting away religious liberty protections from the Florida Constitution and it effectively requires taxpayers to fund religious institutions.

Instead of being straight forward with voters, the Amendment 8 ballot language seeks to dupe Floridians into voting away their constitutional religious liberty rights. The ballot title misleadingly appropriates the Florida Constitution’s existing name for the church-state protections that it would replace – called “Religious Freedom.” As a result, many voters may innocently support the amendment thinking it expands religious freedom when it really harms it.

In 1779, as part of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson wrote “… to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.” For 125 years, the “No Aid” provision of the Florida Constitution has embodied this concept. It guarantees that no Floridian is required to support houses of worship or religion with their tax dollars.

However, despite its official name - “Religious Freedom” – Amendment 8 would remove the No Aid provision from the constitution.

If that’s not bad enough, the amendment would replace the No Aid provision with language that absolutely bars the state from denying any group or individual taxpayer dollars based on “religious identity or religious belief.”

Why is that a problem? It means that state or local government could not deny public funds to religious groups holding anti-Semitic, racist or other extremist religious beliefs.

Not only could religious extremists be the beneficiary of Amendment 8, but it writes taxpayer-funded religious discrimination into the Florida Constitution by incorporating an exemption to anti-discrimination laws that never contemplated public funding for houses of worship. This means that for taxpayer-supported jobs, even secular ones like cooks or social workers, a religious group could advertise, “Catholics, Jews, Protestants, or Muslims, etc. need not apply.”

The amendment also creates an unacceptable risk of taxpayer-funded proselytizing. It contains no safeguards against using taxpayer dollars for religious indoctrination or activities.

Keep in mind that Amendment 8 is in no way needed for religious-affiliated charities (Catholic Charities, Jewish Federations, Lutheran Social Services), or hospitals, or universities to get state funds. As ruled by Florida courts, they are already permitted such funding under the No Aid provision. And for decades they have provided critical taxpayer-funded services to Floridians without issues of state-funded discrimination or proselytizing.

Amendment 8 proponents assert that anti-Catholic prejudice motivated the adoption of the neutrally written No Aid provision. But a well-documented July 2011 report by ACLU fully refutes those claims. Furthermore, the No Aid provision was studied and readopted in 1968, 1977 and 1997 – surely not periods of anti-Catholic or for that matter anti-religious prejudice in Florida.

Don’t be fooled. Don’t vote away separation of church and state. Don’t vote away your constitutional religious liberty rights. On Nov. 6, vote no on Amendment 8.

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FloridaVoices User Comments

Internet based churches such as the Church of the Dude and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are real, if virtual, some with real lawyers. The goal of the Universal Life Church is “educate new ministers in the basics of their profession, REGARDLESS of faith, beliefs or religion.” Anyone can become ordained in these churches for little or not money. The concept of God in the Church of Scientology is “expressed as the Eighth Dynamic—the urge toward existence as infinity.” These are all religious organizations.

Amendment 8 strikes the following from Article I, Section 8 of the state constitution, “No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.” If the Establishment Clause means anything, it means what is contained in that clause. However, the state and federal governments already support churches by allowing the religious exemption to paying taxes. This amendment would not change that.

Both houses of the legislature passed a resolution endorsing Amendment 8. The resolution makes reference to an obscure piece of federal legislation called the Blaine Amendment. President Ulysses S. Grant spoke vigorously against public funding for sectarian schools, saying that religion should be left to families, churches, and private schools devoid of public funds. Congressman James G. Blaine proposed a constitutional amendment that would in large part duplicate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment but added that no money raised for the support of public schools or derived from public funds should be under the control of any religious sect. The Blaine Amendment failed in the Senate, but several states adopted its general concept, including Florida. The resolution on Amendment 8 states that the Blaine Amendment was an attempt to stifle the rights of the Catholic minority, even though Blaine himself sought Catholic votes when he ran for president in 1884. Regardless, the Catholic church is doing quite well in Florida today and hardly needs the added benefits of Amendment 8.

The resolution states that Florida’s Blaine Amendment is being enforced against religious groups of all denominations. Isn’t that what nondiscrimination is? Is there some agenda to provide funds to only the few religious mentioned in the resolution or those that support a particular party?

The resolution states that the Blaine Amendment jeopardizes religiously affiliated hospitals’ participation in Medicaid and other public programs, but then states that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution permits use of public funds in religious hospitals and schools. Which is it?

The resolution states that the Blaine Amendment bars religious organizations access to state funding and state-funded business on an equal basis with nonreligious organizations, but then states that the Establishment Clause does not require those restrictions. Doesn’t the federal constitution and Supreme Court decisions take precedence? If not, why haven’t religious organizations sued the state of Florida over this? Maybe because it is not such a big deal to them.

The Establishment Clause proscribes against the establishment of a religion. Providing money is a primary way to establish anything, including religion. There should remain a firewall between taxpayer funds and religious organizations, a wall only to be breached by judicial decree, not political pandering. Make no mistake, that is exactly what this is, politically motivated bad legislation. The majority conservative legislature is throwing a bone to their conservative religious base. But before you think this is such a good deal for your church, ask the following questions:
• Since all government funding comes with strings, is your religious group willing to submit to government's changing restrictions and rules for a few dollars?
• Would you be in favor of your hard earned dollars being appropriated for a purpose for which you disagree, such as paying the damages from a lawsuit for child abuse against a church?
• Would you be willing to allow the legislature to pick and choose which religious organizations get your tax dollars and for what purpose?
• Would the legislature only provide funding to mainstream Christian and Jewish organizations? Would they exclude Islam, Wicca, or Mormon? Would they discriminate against those churches named in the first paragraph?
• Would you be willing to pay for the legal fees if the answer to any of the questions in the preceding bullet is yes?