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.
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.
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