Bondi Revises Ballot Language for 'Religious Freedom' Amendment
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Attorney General Pam Bondi has resubmitted ballot language a week after a Leon County judge agreed with critics that the wording of the "Religious Freedom" amendment was too “ambiguous.”
The revised ballot summary for Amendment 7 on the November 2012 ballot adopts suggestions from Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, the attorney general’s office stated in a release.
“Voters deserve an opportunity to decide whether to remove from Florida's Constitution a provision that discriminates against religious institutions,” Bondi stated in a release. “The revised ballot summary completely cures the legal defect identified in Judge Lewis' ruling striking down the original ballot summary.”
The new ballot language, submitted Tuesday to the Department of State, replaces language that Lewis ruled gave the appearance the ballot item would make it harder for the state to deny funding for sectarian institutions.
Challengers, which include the Florida Education Association and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, have 10 days to file a legal challenge to the revised language.
Amendment 7, approved by legislators in the spring for the November ballot, is designed to upend the century-old constitutional ban on using taxpayer money for the “aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."
In a lawsuit filed July 20, opponents claimed the wording failed to tell voters that the amendment’s aim is simply to compel the state to extend benefits to religious institutions.
Lewis, in his Dec. 13 ruling, sided with the critics that the wording of the ballot was legally defective, but disagreed with the contention that the title of the amendment, “Religious Freedom,” was misleading.
The new language adds that no individual or entity may be denied except “as required by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
Lewis, in his ruling, favored the term “required by,” noting that Amendment 7 favors a “free exercise” of religion.
The revised language reads:
“Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution providing that no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding, or other support, except as required by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and deleting the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”
The rejected language stated:
“Proposing an amendment to the state Constitution to provide that no individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief and to delete the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”
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