Creationists Favor Florida Theocracy Amendment

There are 31 days until election day in the US. On that day — 06 November — the voters of Florida will be deciding on Amendment 8 to their state Constitution. We’ve written about it before, most recently here. It’s important enough that we’re going to repeat some background information which most of you already know, so you can skip the next few indented paragraphs:

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:

[Existing provision to be removed:] 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:

[Replacement provision:] 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.

If the amendment’s new language were so important that it had to be included in the state’s Constitution, it could have been added without removing the Blaine language. But the fluffy new language is just a pretext for the amendment’s true purpose — removing the ban on giving taxpayers’ money to religious institutions. If the amendment passes, preacher-lobbyists will flock to Tallahassee to get their share of the citizens’ tax money. Weak-willed legislators will be bullied into handing out cash to every church, mosque, and voodoo sect in the state that demands it. It’s not difficult to predict that the state will be paying for education vouchers for private religious schools that teach creationism, as is happening now in Louisiana (see In Scotland They’re Laughing at Louisiana).

Last year, when the amendment was working its way through the legislature, it was analyzed by the House 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:

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.

This is where the name “Blaine” comes in:

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.

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.

Okay, you’re up to speed. Florida is one of 37 states with such a provision in its constitution, and now Florida voters are being given a chance to throw it out. Why would any state want to do such a thing? You’ll see.

The news today appears in the Florida Baptist Witness. Their website says: “Since 1884, Florida Baptist Witness has been the newspaper of the Florida Baptist State Convention.” It’s part of the Southern Baptist Convention, which Wikipedia says “is the world’s largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States, with over 16 million members as of 2010. This also makes it the second largest Christian body in the United States, after the Catholic Church.”

The Witness serves as the official news organ for Florida’s largest denomination — which also happens to be the denomination of virtually every state politician in Florida who has supported creationist legislation in the past. See Florida’s Axis of Creationism, in which we said:

[W]e regard the Florida Baptist Convention and the Florida Baptist Witness to be part of the faith-based network of the Discoveroids, and they constitute the principal Axis of Creationism in Florida.

It’s no surprise to us that the Witness thinks this change to the state Constitution is a wonderful idea. Their latest article on the subject is State Board supports pro-life, religious freedom constitutional amendments, and it’s written by James A. Smith Sr., the Executive Editor. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

The State Board of Missions voted unanimously Sept. 21 to support two state constitutional amendments seeking to prevent abortion funding and to protect religious freedom of organizations providing social services.

The support comes in the form of endorsements of Amendment 6 (abortion) and Amendment 8 (religious freedom) and a $10,000 contribution to each political committee promoting the measures on the November general election ballot.

We won’t discuss the abortion amendment because that’s beyond the scope of our humble blog. But the so-called “religious freedom” amendment is the repeal of the Blaine Amendment. We we think of Amendment 8 as the “Church Lobbyists’ Full Employment Act” because it authorizes preachers to raid the state treasury. The Witness continues:

The religious freedom constitutional amendment would remove language from the state constitution barring state dollars from going to religious institutions.

They have a clear understanding of the issue. Here’s more:

[Jim Frankowiak, who manages the pro-Amendment 8 campaign for Citizens for Religious Freedom and Non-Discrimination] dismissed concerns that the amendment would weaken the separation of church and state, saying that there are still safeguards against state-backed religion. “This does nothing to the establishment clause in the Florida Constitution or the U.S. Constitution,” he said.

We disagree. Strongly. Let’s read on:

Opponents of the amendment, though, insist that it would demolish a long-standing protection against citizens being forced to watch their tax dollars go to religious organizations they might disagree with.

Amendment 8 is opposed by the Florida Education Association and other education groups along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Anti-Defamation League and the National Council of Jewish Women.

Most of the opposition seems to be from teachers’ groups. They don’t want state funding for religious schools. Neither do we, but we haven’t seen a lot of publicity in the press about the issue. Perhaps that will change in the next month. The Witness continues:

[Bill Bunkley, president of Florida Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission] told the Witness the amendment is simply about removing discrimination from the state constitution. “Florida’s government needs all the help they can get,” he said. “Allowing all community organizations who are qualified and willing to help, including faith-based entities, only makes for common sense.”

Bill Bunkley is also the Florida Baptist Convention’s legislative consultant (i.e., he’s their lobbyist). Why does a religious denomination need a lobbyist? Good question. Anyway, our last excerpt comes from near the end of the article:

Constitutional amendments must receive at least 60 percent support from voters to be approved. Voters will consider 11 amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot.

So there you are. One more thing to worry about on Election Day.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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7 responses to “Creationists Favor Florida Theocracy Amendment

  1. An interesting book along these lines is “The Myth of Religious Freedom” by David Sehat.

  2. Thanks for that terrific update SC.
    In an effort to share the news here’s an additional I just ran across. Congressman Broun R Ga recently told a convention that “science, is of the devil”. He was addressing a Baptist convention at the time. Congressman Broun is a member of the House Science and Technology committee.

    That’s always good to hear. The electorate in Athens Ga is asleep at the wheel, crazy, or both.

  3. Gabriel Hanna

    . Florida is one of 37 states with such a provision in its constitution,

    Let’s see these other 13 states that don’t have a Blaine Amendment, what theocratic hellholes they must be… according to Wikipedia:

    Arkansas, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and West Virginia

    Certainly some of the usual suspects are there, but some of the others don’t fit. Could the history of the Blaine amendments be a little more complex than presented here?

    Oh, yes, anti-Catholic sentiment. I seem to remember something about that.

    In 1869 the religious issue in New York City escalated when Tammany Hall, with its large Catholic base, sought and obtained $1.5 million in state money for Catholic schools. Thomas Nast’s cartoon The American River Ganges (above) shows Catholic Bishops, directed by the Vatican, as crocodiles attacking American schoolchildren.

    Republican Senator James G. Blaine of Maine proposed an amendment to the Constitution in 1874 that provided: “No money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public source, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect, nor shall any money so raised or land so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations.” The amendment was defeated in 1875 but would be used as a model for so-called “Blaine Amendments” incorporated into 34 state constitutions over the next three decades.

    Seems President Grant thought the Blaine Amendment would protect schoolchildren from “atheistic, pagan or sectarian teaching.” Now that is a curious mix of motives, isn’t it… almost seems as though the Blaine Amendment was intended to use government schools to push Protestantism.

    Granted that the actors and the scene are very different today. But the real story is here:

    Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002), was a case decided by the United States Supreme Court which tested the allowance of school vouchers in relation to the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

    And that’s where the teachers come in.

  4. Gabriel Hanna says: “[it] almost seems as though the Blaine Amendment was intended to use government schools to push Protestantism.”

    The promoters of Amendment 8 claim that the Blaine Amendment was anti-Catholic. But that can’t be right because the amendment keeps all denominations from getting state funds. And except for Louisiana, there weren’t many Catholics back then in the Southern states.

  5. Ceteris Paribus

    @GH and Curm:
    In his book “Why the Religious Right is Wrong about Separation of Church & State”, historian Rob Boston has a few paragraphs of context about the President Grant / Senator Blaine views on sectarian schooling.

    Yes, the growing number of Catholics were asking for public funding of Catholic schools. But that was motivated by the fact that public schools were basically sectarian protestant, for example reading from the King James bible, and n9ot the Catholic Douay bible.

    Grant proposed three objectives:
    1 Mandate the states maintain public schools. (the concept of universal education was in its infancy. Much schooling was still private.)
    2 Require that public schools be free from sectarian control (compare that to the demands of recent sectarian ‘charter schools’ who now control the public funding they receive)
    3 Bar any diversion of tax funds to religious schools.

    Blaine, in framing his amendment picked up only the third point of Grant’s objectives.

    But a complication to the adoption of the Blaine amendment came from the National Reform Association, which was an influential advocate for religious teaching. They demanded that the Blaine amendment add a provision that would constitutionally declare bible reading in public schools to be nonsectarian. (Which we hear echoed still today by the theocrats, and of course we now have schoolchildren reciting a nonsectarian pledge of allegiance with a reference to god added by congress.)

  6. will says:

    Congressman Broun R Ga recently told a convention that “science, is of the devil”.

    I just found a news story about it. I’ll have a post up in a little while.

  7. Here in Indiana, the state constitution has the Blaine Amendment, but the state legislature and the governor ignored it and instituted the largest voucher program in the nation. It’s now in its second school year.

    The state claims it’s all constitutional because “the parents decide where the money goes, not the state.” However, the parents don’t actually receive any money; they get only a voucher, which they then hand over to the school. The school then submits the voucher to the state, and funds are then sent from the state treasury to the school. This would seem to be in direct violation of the state constitution if the school is affiliated with a religious institution. This is the wording in the Indiana State Constitution:

    Section 6. No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.

    The voucher plan would also seem to be at odds with this section of the state constitution: (bold added)

    Section 4. No preference shall be given, by law, to any creed, religious society, or mode of worship; and no person shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support, any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent.

    Since there is at least one Islamic school receiving voucher money, I’m surprised that there hasn’t been an outcry from all “the good Christians” who are being forced to support Islam through their tax dollars. Maybe they hadn’t heard of this yet.

    In the past, the Republicans have always prided themselves for being strict interpreters of the constitution. It seems they are only strict interpreters when it comes to such things as abortion, human rights, welfare, and other social issues. It seems they can be pretty good at word games when it comes to defunding public schools, because all the voucher money is coming out of the public schools’ budget.

    The voucher law is being challenged, and the Indiana Supreme Court will hear the case in November.