Today is the fourth time we’ve written about this massive threat to freedom in Florida. Our post before this was Florida’s Theocratic Constitutional Amendment, #3. The next few indented paragraphs provide background information, which you can skip if you’ve been following this topic:
The Florida legislature is considering a constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 1471 – Religious Freedom, sponsored by Rep. Scott Plakon (R). As originally drafted, 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). Specifically, it would repeal Florida’s Blaine Amendment language, the last sentence of Article I, Section 3 of the current Florida Constitution.
Historical information going back to the Grant administration can be found in the House’s Staff Analysis for the Judiciary Committee dated 15 April. It’s a very informative 7-page pdf file. A similar resolution is pending in the state Senate. That’s SJR 1218: Religious Freedom, sponsored by Senator Thad Altman (R).
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.
Because the legislature is scheduled to adjourn today, 06 May, we had thought this beast was dead, having passed only in the House (after being amended). But we were premature in making our prediction. In the Tallahassee Democrat, the only daily newspaper in the state capitol of Tallahassee, Florida, we read Senate to vote on state funding of church-backed social services. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
The Florida Senate advanced a constitutional amendment Thursday that would allow state funds to be used by church-related groups for social services.
The House-passed proposal was set for a final floor vote today, the last day of the legislative session, to put it on the 2012 election ballot.
Although the original version in the House was truly a nightmare — it said: “No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief” — thus allowing state funding for churches, the new version is still potentially very bad. Here’s the text of the Senate’s version of the amendment. The new language to be added to the Constitution says:
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.
See the difference? The original version in the House allowed funding for religious organizations. The language is somewhat less theocratic now, but the potential to use state money to pay preacher’s salary, for example, is still there. Let’s read on:
Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, said the change will not allow tax money to be used for religious purposes or to subsidize any church operations. He said the amendment is needed to end discrimination against church-affiliated agencies that help drug addicts, foster children, homeless people and others in need.
“The money doesn’t go to religious organizations,” he said. “It goes to people providing services.”
The proposed amendment no longer appears to serve any purpose, because the new wording corrects no existing problems. For example, we know of no instance where, say, a Buddhist was refused food stamps merely for being a Buddhist. So what’s the amendment all about? Isn’t it obvious? The purpose is solely to remove the Blaine language, which now says:
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.
After that safeguard is gone (which is in 37 other state constitutions) the fun will start. This is a prelude to evil. Will the Senate use the session’s last day to pass this bit of craziness? We’ll find out soon enough.
Addendum: According to the Miami Herald, the amendment passed the Senate: Lawmakers allow repeal of religious aid ban to go to 2012 ballot. Now it’s up to the state’s voters.
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