Florida’s Theocratic Constitutional Amendment, #6

We’re thinking of changing the title of this series, because it’s a bit of a tongue-twister now. Maybe “Florida’s Church Tax Amendment” would be better? No, that sounds like it’s a proposed tax on churches, and this is very much the opposite — it’s a tax on you for the benefit of churches.

We’ll work that out. The next few indented paragraphs provide background information, which most of you can skip:

A proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution will be on the ballot for the 06 November 2012 general election. Sixty percent voter approval is required for adoption. If adopted by the voters, the amendment will take effect on 04 January 2013.

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:

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:

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.

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.

Our last post on this topic was Florida’s Theocratic Constitutional Amendment, #5. We reported then that the ACLU was thinking about challenging the way the amendment would be presented on the ballot. Things have started to heat up and the press is beginning to notice.

In the Sun Sentinal of Fort Lauderdale, Florida we read Lawsuit aims to block effort to spend tax money on religious groups. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

An effort by Republicans in the Florida Legislature to end a century-old state ban on public aid to religious institutions was challenged in court today by Florida’s teachers union and several religious and civic leaders.

The journalist seems to have a grasp of what the proposed amendment really means. We’re impressed. But why is the teachers union involved? Let’s read on:

[T]he Florida Education Association and others said voters should not see the “misleading” amendment question, which they call a “shady” attempt to make it easier to funnel taxpayers’ money to private, religious schools through vouchers.

Ah. The union doesn’t want taxpayer-financed competition for their taxpayer-financed public schools. That’s a sleazy motive, but we’ll take any opposition we can find. The article continues:

The plaintiffs, who include ministers and rabbis, also said the measure would essentially force taxpayers to spend their money on religious groups whose beliefs might not mesh with their own.

Finally! Someone understands what’s going on with this theocratic monstrosity. Here’s more, this time it’s the union’s position:

“This is a shady way of opening the door for school vouchers for all,” said Andy Ford, the union president, in a prepared statement.

Legal experts say Florida’s constitution, as written, makes it hard to uphold some private-school voucher programs. One such program in Florida’s was struck down in 2006, though not ultimately because of the measure now in question.

Hey, Andy: There’s a wee bit more going on here than what happens to your monopoly on the collection of union dues. The proposed amendment provides a “legal” way for preachers to put their hands in your pocket. Moving along:

But advocates of the change say it isn’t about vouchers.

Right — that’s just the cover story. It’s about forced funding of theocracy. Maybe the newspaper will quote someone who understands that. Let’s see:

It’s about providing Floridians high-quality public services (social, healthcare, and education), irrespective of the provider’s religious affiliation,” said the Foundation for Florida’s Future, an education advocacy group founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Uh … come on, Jeb. You’re smarter than that. Sorry to see you’ve sold out to the theocrats.

Another excerpt, this time it’s the journalist talking:

The amendment would ask voters if they want to delete the so-called Blaine Amendment provision from Florida’s constitution. That 39-word sentence has been in Florida’s state constitution since 1885. Known as the “no aid” provision, it states that “no revenue of the state” can be given “directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”

The sentence, like similar language in nearly 40 other state constitutions, is a stricter prohibition against the financial mixing of church and state than is found in the U.S. Constitution. It was named for a U.S. Senator who tried but failed to get similar language in the federal document in 1875.

At least someone understands what’s happening. One more excerpt:

Passage of the amendment would be “coercing every Floridian to support religious institutions that hold ideas that are antithetical to their own,” said Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, of Temple Shalom in Deltona. He is also president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Yea! He gets it! Now let’s see how the issue is handled in the press over the next several months.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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13 responses to “Florida’s Theocratic Constitutional Amendment, #6

  1. aturingtest

    “Aaarrrggghhh!” all over the place. From this and your earlier articles on this subject, it seems they’re going to play the “won’t somebody think of the children?” card, and downplay the fact that the end gainers will be the churches. And how exactly will these “benefits” be monitored without monitoring the churches themselves to some extent? You can bet they’ll revert to “separation of church and state” pretty damn fast when the state starts looking at church financials to make sure the money’s going where it’s supposed to. Anyway, argh. For now.

  2. I’m a little bit torn by this. I have no problem with vouchers for private schools of any stripe — as long as the choice of how to spend the money is made by parents and not the government. Most people, particularly poor ones, lack a viable way to opt out of poor public school systems. Empowering parents with real choices and making local school districts compete for “customers” can only be good in the long term.

    Unfortunately, I’d also put my money on the priests and rabbis being right. I think you could make an uncharitable case that Rabbi Shapiro may be motivated by distaste for competition just as much as the teachers union, but that doesn’t make the basic problem of people using public funds for purely private, sectarian ends any less likely.

  3. “I think you could make an uncharitable case that Rabbi Shapiro may be motivated by distaste for competition”

    He may be, but also if you go down that line, a point of the separation of church and state was because of this distaste. It makes it clear the government is not to prefer one religion over another, but this move in Florida is seen as a small step towards supporting the politically powerful church lobbies in Florida, which I suspect the Rabbi is not part of.

  4. There’s lots of ways to give children vouchers to private schools without saying that any religous organization can get state money.

    Washington State, for example, had a rule that student aid from the state could not go to religious colleges AND could not go to students majoring in theology. But they provided student aid to everyone else.

    If religious people want to volunteer their own time and money to secular purposes, nothing is stopping them. If they want to pursue secular purposes using state money, they don’t have to do it through their churches.

  5. Passage of the amendment would be “coercing every Floridian to support religious institutions that hold ideas that are antithetical to their own,” said Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, of Temple Shalom in Deltona. He is also president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

    I think that this is a very weak argument. We are taxed routinely to support things that we oppose. For example, my taxes go to Social Security, the War on Drugs, TSA, the FCC, the Department of Education, three Middle East wars, and FSM-knows-what-else that I strenuously oppose and find thoroughly immoral and disgusting.

    IMO, the only valid argument is, “constitutionally unacceptable from the clear establishment language in the constitution.” Not that judges actually bother to follow the constitution, but still…

  6. I stand corrected. 😉

    I remember my favorite headline at the start of the Libyan, ummmm, “kinetic action.”

    “Nobel Peace Laureate Starts Third War in Middle East.”

  7. @Gabriel:

    “Washington State, for example, had a rule that student aid from the state could not go to religious colleges AND could not go to students majoring in theology. But they provided student aid to everyone else.”

    Hold on — how’s that second part acceptable? That sounds like it’s stepping over the line between government being secular and being secularizing, which is totally out of bounds. The fruits of theology may be distasteful to many, but it’s still a legitimate field of study. I suppose this goes to the cleavage between the “freedom of” and “freedom from” religion camps, but to me that’s still a distasteful intervention by government in personal choice.

  8. aturingtest

    SJR said: “I’m a little bit torn by this.”

    That’s exactly what they’re counting on- enough people being “torn by this” to see a good they want you to see outweighing the inherent bad of trashing a constitutional basic. As I said, they’re playing the “won’t somebody think of the children (sob)” card.

    I live in south Mississippi (which is at least better than most of north MS), and this whole thing has inspired me to see what our constitution says about the subject. Article 3, section 18:

    No religious test as a qualification for office shall be required; and no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect or mode of worship; but the free enjoyment of all religious sentiments and the different modes of worship shall be held sacred. The rights hereby secured shall not be construed to justify acts of licentiousness injurious to morals or dangerous to the peace and safety of the state, or to exclude the Holy Bible from use in any public school of this state.

    That last line, about not excluding the bible from schools, seems to indicate a definite preference for Christianity that the second clause of the first sentence seems to prohibit. An almost biblical contradiction?

    Also, for what it’s worth, an original section banning dueling was repealed by decision of the electorate in 1978, which I suppose makes dueling legal in Mississippi. Got any beefs to settle with anyone? This is the place. Can I get a big Mississippi “yeehah!”?

  9. aturingtest

    My apologies for that last post- my formatting skills are badly out of practice.

  10. aturingtest, I patched it up, I think. As for dueling, a lot of states outlawed it, and some even made the act of challenging someone to a duel a crime. I’ve heard that one state even made it illegal to provoke a challenge. Mississippi had it in their Constitution? That’s wild. It’s probably a regular crime anyway, so deleting it from the Constitution seems like it was just a bit of cleaning-up to remove obsolete stuff.

  11. aturingtest

    Thanks for the patch job, that does look a lot better. I’ll try to brush up on the old skill-set and do better next time (after this time).

  12. @aturningtest:

    Yeehah!

    Thanks for the fascinating snippet from the Mississippi constitution. They say patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, but it sounds like appeals to law and order (or “peace and safety”, if you will) aren’t far behind.