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.
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