Florida Theocracy Endorsed by Catholics

That graphic is our presentation of the Party slogans displayed outside the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Allusions to that novel constantly arise as we report on The Controversy between evolution and creationism. The creationists’ propaganda efforts reek of Newspeak — not Orwell’s version, but a specialized reconstructed vocabulary designed to promote creationism and to discredit science. When we come across it, we like to flag it with this tasteful symbol: Newspeak Alert.

With that as an introduction, we now turn to Religious Freedom Amendment on the Ballot in Florida. It appears in the National Catholic Register, which describes itself as “America’s most complete and faithful Catholic news source.” They seem to be fanatical about not allowing anything they write to be copied, so we’ll comply by mostly restating what they tell us, and copying only a few quotes.

The issue they’re writing about is a proposed amendment to the Florida constitution that we’ve discussed before but it’s been a few months, so the next few indented paragraphs provide background information, which most of you can skip:

The proposed amendment would remove language from the state Constitution (the so-called “Blaine Amendment”) that prohibits state funding of religious organizations. That language (which is found in 37 state constitutions) is now the last sentence of Article I, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution. It currently says:

[Existing provision to be removed:] 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.

The new amendment to the Constitution removes what we quoted above and replaces it with this:

[Replacement provision:] An individual may not be barred from participating in any public program because that individual has freely chosen to use his or her program benefits at a religious provider.

That new language is non-threateningly vague, and it actually sounds nice, but non-discrimination is already the law so a constitutional amendment isn’t needed for that. The important thing is what the new provision replaces. Removing the current restriction on state funding could be catastrophic — for those who think churches shouldn’t be forcibly subsidized by taxpayers.

If the amendment’s new language were so important that it had to be included in the state’s Constitution, it could have been added without removing the Blaine language. But the fluffy new language is just a pretext for the amendment’s true purpose — removing the ban on giving taxpayers’ money to religious institutions. If the amendment passes, preacher-lobbyists will flock to Tallahassee to get their share of the citizens’ tax money. Weak-willed legislators will be bullied into handing out cash to every church, mosque, and voodoo sect in the state that demands it. It’s not difficult to predict that the state will be paying for education vouchers for private religious schools that teach creationism, as is happening now in Louisiana (see In Scotland They’re Laughing at Louisiana).

Florida voters will find this mess on their ballots in November, as “Amendment 8,” and it will be misleadingly titled “Religious Freedom.” The typical voter will think “That sounds nice,” and the thing will probably pass. That label “Religious Freedom.” earns our Newspeak Alert.

Okay, now you’re up to speed. The news today is that the National Catholic Register thinks the amendment is a wonderful idea. They give a long list of worthy causes that the amendment will allow the state to fund, such as:

food pantries for low-income families; housing assistance programs; foster-care agencies; substance-abuse treatment and recovery programs; prenatal and pregnancy-care centers; prison ministries, as well as religiously affiliated universities and hospitals.

Prison ministries? Do you want your tax money paying for that — if the ministry isn’t preaching your denomination’s creed? And why should the citizens be taxed for those other things? The religious institutions are running them now, without state aid. As we said before, if the legislature thinks such things are worthy of taxpayers’ money, they could have added an exception to the existing funding ban to permit them — but instead the amendment removes the ban altogether.

Back to the news story, they eventually get around to the subject of education vouchers by quoting a rabbi who is opposed:

“No one should be forced to pay for religious education that they don’t believe in,” Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, a board of trustee member with the secular-rights group Americans United, told Fox News. “Ultimately, Muslims will be paying for Catholic education. Catholics will be paying for Hindu education. Hindus will be paying to educate Buddhists. Buddhists will be paying to educate Presbyterians. Presbyterians will be paying to educate Jews.”

He’s right. And although he doesn’t mention it, everyone will be paying for creationist schools too. Then they quote Michael Sheedy, associate director for health with the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, who disagrees with the rabbi. We should preface his remarks with our Newspeak Alert:

“This is about more than vouchers,” said Sheedy. “To say that this opens the doors to full-scale vouchers is wrong.”

“The amendment doesn’t favor any religious group over another and doesn’t favor religious groups over those that are secular,” added Sheedy. “What it does is remove required discrimination against an organization simply because it’s religious.”

The article goes on and on, praising the proposed amendment. But if it passes, they won’t be so enthusiastic when they learn that state funds are being demanded to pay for primitive creationist schools and Islamic Madrasahs.

So there you are. The Great Religious Raid on the State Treasury is on the ballot, disguised as a provision for “Religious Freedom.” But you don’t have to take your Curmudgeon’s word for it. Check out Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. That’s how these issues should be handled.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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5 responses to “Florida Theocracy Endorsed by Catholics

  1. This is all pretty depressing :(

  2. Wouldn’t this immediately be challenged on First Amendment grounds by, say, the ACLU, and immediately overturned?

  3. Garnetstar asks: “Wouldn’t this immediately be challenged on First Amendment grounds by, say, the ACLU, and immediately overturned?”

    It’ll be challenged, but maybe not overturned. Many states had established churches, long after the federal Constitution was adopted. They voluntarily dis-established them.

  4. Kind of funny that you posted this today. Just got off my butt and posted this about the fascism of the GOP: http://larianlequella.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-gop-acting-like-fascists.html

  5. retiredsciguy

    Garnetstar asks, “Wouldn’t this immediately be challenged on First Amendment grounds by, say, the ACLU, and immediately overturned?”

    Indiana’s state constitution is worded very similarly to Florida’s with respect to prohibiting state money being paid to religious institutions, and yet the state enacted a law last year that sends voucher money to religious schools. It is now being challenged in the state supreme court (no hearings yet). Meanwhile, my tax money is going to scores of religious schools. It will be interesting to see if the parents receiving the vouchers will have to pay the state back if the law is deemed unconstitutional.

    Frankly, I don’t think the legislators thought this one through. In any event, any challenge takes time, even if the law (or in Florida’s case, amendment) is immediately challenged.