Today we will again discuss something that is pending in the Florida legislature. We wrote about it once before — Florida’s Theocratic Constitutional Amendment. The next few indented paragraphs provide background information, which most of you can skip:
The House Civil Justice Committee on 29 March approved a constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 1471 – Religious Freedom, sponsored by Rep. Scott Plakon (R). The proposed amendment would remove language from the Constitution that prohibits state funding to religious organizations. You can read the amendment’s text here (5-page pdf file).
It would repeal Florida’s Blaine Amendment language, the last sentence of Article I, Section 3 of the current Florida Constitution. That language was originally adopted in 1885. This is how Section 3 would look if the proposed amendment is adopted, with the existing (Blaine) language shown in blue, and the new (Plakon) language in red:
SECTION 3. Religious freedom.—There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals, peace, or safety. [Plakon’s new language:] No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief. [The Blaine amendment to be deleted:] 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.
In other words, Plakon’s proposed amendment allows politically influential churches to raid the state treasury. This is considerably more important than some stupid creationism bill.
There have been some developments since our last post on 08 April, and although the measure has largely escaped press attention, we think this is a subject of major importance.
At the legislature’s website page for Plakon’s proposed amendment we learn that besides having been passed by the House Civil Justice Committee, which was mentioned in our earlier post, the thing was also passed by the House Judiciary Committee on 14 April. The vote was 12 to 4 (two committee members didn’t vote).
We also learn that there’s a similar resolution cooking in the state Senate. That’s SJR 1218: Religious Freedom, sponsored by Senator Thad Altman (R). On 12 April it was approved by the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 5 to 2. Now it’s sitting in the Senate’s Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee. It may also be sitting in the Budget Committee and also the Education Pre-K – 12 Committee.
And we have more information. In the House, the proposed amendment has been analyzed by staff. Here’s a link to the Staff Analysis for the Judiciary Committee dated 15 April. It’s a very informative 7-page pdf file. We’ll give you a few excerpts, with bold font added by us:
The joint resolution must be adopted by a three-fifths vote of the membership of each house of the Legislature. If approved by the Legislature, the proposed amendment would be placed on the ballot at the November 6, 2012, general election. Sixty percent voter approval is required for adoption. If adopted by the voters, the amendment will take effect on January 4, 2013.
Very good to know. Let’s read on:
The last sentence of Article I, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution is known as the “Blaine Amendment” or “no-aid” provision. The U.S. Constitution does not contain a similar provision. “Blaine Amendments” are provisions adopted in the latter part of the nineteenth century as part of many state constitutions in an attempt to restrict the use of state funds at “sectarian” schools.
Here’s some interesting history:
In 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant, in his State of the Union Address, called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to mandate free public schools and prohibit the use of public money for sectarian schools. President Grant laid out his agenda for “good common school education.” He attacked government support for “sectarian schools” run by religious organizations, and called for the defense of public education “unmixed with sectarian, pagan or atheistical dogmas.” President Grant declared that “Church and State” should be “forever separate.” Religion, he said, should be left to families, churches, and private schools devoid of public funds.
Hey — that’s good! Until now, we never cared much for Grant. All we ever knew about him was that he wupped Robert E. Lee and then went on to an undistinguished Presidency. We continue:
After President Grant’s speech, Congressman James G. Blaine proposed the President’s suggested amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In 1875, the proposed amendment passed by a vote of 180 to 7 in the House of Representatives, but failed by four votes to achieve the necessary two-thirds vote in the U.S. Senate.
That’s where the name “Blaine” comes in. Here’s more:
While the amendment failed at the federal level, in the following years a majority of states adopted amendments similar to that of Blaine’s and such amendments became known as “Blaine Amendments.” … Today, 37 states have provisions placing some form of restriction on government aid to “sectarian” schools that goes beyond any limits in the U.S. Constitution.
The Staff Analysis also says that this was at a time of “a large increase in Catholic immigration to the United States” which “created concern among Protestants that the government would begin funding Catholic schools.” It also says that: “Some commentators believe the ‘Blaine Amendments’ were a reaction to this fear.”
The Staff Analysis then mentions some court cases dealing with the existing Florida provision, one of which is still pending. We’ll skip that. There’s one more interesting bit of information. We are told:
The Judiciary Committee considered this joint resolution on April 14, 2011, adopted one amendment, and reported the joint resolution favorably, as amended. The amendment replaced the proposed new constitutional language and inserted the following:
Except to the extent required by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, neither the government nor any agent of the government may deny to any individual or entity the benefits of any program, funding, or other support on the basis of religious identity or belief.
That replaces Plakon’s original proposal, which was: “No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief.”
The change seems to have been unnecessary. The state couldn’t have superseded the US Constitution anyway. As revised, the proposed amendment still allows taxpayer funding of religious organizations.
So there you are, dear reader. Florida may be on the verge of tearing down the wall of separation between church and state. As we’ve said before, this is serious.
Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.