Florida’s Theocratic Constitutional Amendment, #7

This is about an issue we first discussed back in May: Florida’s Theocratic Constitutional Amendment. That amendment would remove the state’s current constitutional ban on governmental funding of religion.

We diligently search for news of this monstrosity, but we rarely find any. Our last update was three months ago: Florida Theocracy update #6. It was about some litigation that was started to remove the beast from the ballot. Since then, as each day passed without even a newspaper column or editorial about the subject, we’ve been increasingly horrified to think that the theocrats are making a raw grab for the Florida taxpayers’ wallets, and nobody cares.

At this point, some of you may need some context. 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.

Now you know what’s been going on in Florida. To our immense relief, we found some news today. It’s Court battle begins over ballot measure, which appears in the News-Press, located in Fort Myers, Florida. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

A proposed change to the state constitution making it easier for taxpayer funds to go to religious institutions does not adequately explain that fact to voters who will be asked to decide, an attorney for critics told a circuit judge Thursday.

True, the ballot provision is misleading. It’s also true that the newspapers in Florida haven’t been doing their job either, but that’s another story. Back to the News-Press:

Representing a coalition of public education and religious interests, attorney Ron Meyer told Second Circuit Judge Terry Lewis that a proposed constitutional amendment passed by lawmakers earlier this year is misleading because it disguises the true intent behind the amendment, which is scheduled for a vote in November 2012.

Theocrats concealing their true intent? We’re shocked — shocked! Let’s read on:

Thursday’s court hearing was the first in a lawsuit filed in July that is spearheaded by the Florida Education Association, other public school advocates and religious leaders throughout the state.

That may explain the lack of news about the litigation, but there’s no excuse for the general, state-wide blackout on this nightmare amendment. We continue:

Opponents of the proposed amendment – called Amendment 7 – are primarily concerned that taxpayer dollars will be used to support scholarships, known as vouchers, for private school students.

As we mentioned back in July, the amendment’s principal opponent so far is the teachers’ union, trying to protect their monopoly power. They don’t want taxpayer-financed competition for the public schools. That’s a sleazy motive, but we’ll take any opposition we can find. It’s worth noting, however, that there are no good guys in this mess. Here’s more:

If approved, Meyer said the proposed amendment would require the state to direct public taxpayer dollars toward religious institutions, opening the door for expansions of programs such as private school vouchers and weakening the state’s historic separation of church and state. None of this, Meyer argued, is disclosed to voters in the ballot summary.

“What they are doing is turning what has been the settled rule of religious freedom for the past 125 years on its head,” Meyer said. Later, he called it a “huge recalculation…of what the First Amendment provides.”

Even the union’s lawyer can see the larger issue. That’s something. Moving along:

Florida law requires that a ballot title and summary adequately and accurately inform voters about the proposal’s real effect. Along with an inaccurate summary, Meyer said the ballot title – “Religious Freedom” – was misleading to voters.

We agree. The state’s lawyers then argued their side of the case and said that everything was just fine. After that:

There was also disagreement over whether the ballot summary explained that the proposal may violate the U.S. Constitution’s “free exercise” and “establishment” clauses that deal with the separation of church and state and protections of religious freedoms.

A mere trifle! The voters don’t need to know such things. There’s a lot more in the News-Press article, and if you’re interested in this insane amendment, you’ll want to click over there to read it all. We’ll continue to keep you advised when more news is spotted.

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

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2 responses to “Florida’s Theocratic Constitutional Amendment, #7

  1. The original clause seems as if it can be used to deny parents the right to use school vouchers to send their kids to private schools with religious ties. The amended version just says that individuals who receive a state subsidy are permitted to use that subsidy wherever they choose, irrespective of any religious ties.

    Although this provision (if I have read it right) would indeed permit state money to go *indirectly* to religious institutions, the support goes *directly* to individuals. They have the responsibility to use it wisely–according to their values, not mine–which means they have the right to use it for whatever education they choose. It is no different in principle from the GI Bill grants, which went directly to veterans, who could use them at whatever schools they chose. The GI Bill resulted in no unfortunate influence in either direction between church and state, at least none that I know of.

    I am equally opposed to state support and state suppression of religion. I firmly support the right of individuals to make their own educational choices, no matter how misguided those choices might strike me.

  2. Article I section 3’s no-aid provision is definitely Blaine Amendment language and it uses the exact wording of the Blaine Amendment and
    that part of the Blaine Amendment used the exact wording President Grant
    used in his speech.

    I support striking the Blaine Amendment language from Article I Section 3 and striking the “Uniform Public School” langauge from Article IX Section 1 since they are both unconstitutional and violate U.S. Treaty.