Religious Freedom Amendment Supporters Confident of Rewrite

By: Jim Turner | Posted: December 15, 2011 3:55 AM
Rep. Scott Plakon

Rep. Scott Plakon | Credit: myfloridahouse.gov- Mark Foley

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, is confident that Florida voters will see an amendment this fall 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."

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis agreed Wednesday with critics of Amendment 7, who said that the full wording of the ballot item legislators approved in the spring to go before Florida voters next November is too “ambiguous” to go forward.

However, Lewis added that while the proposed “Religious Freedom” titled amendment shouldn’t be allowed on the ballot as is, the proposal can still be rewritten.

“When I first read the amendment and its summary, it seemed rather straightforward and descriptive, not ambiguous or misleading in the least,” Lewis wrote. “Having now considered the state of the law relative to the subject, however, and the case law as applied to the review of proposed amendment summaries, I agree that the summary is legally defective.”

Meanwhile, Lewis disagreed with the contention that the title of the amendment, “Religious Freedom,” was misleading.

Plakon expects Attorney General Pam Bondi will agree to reword the ballot.

“It’s a fairly simple fix,” said Plakon, who sponsored the House version of the bill last spring.

“The good news is the voters apparently will be able to vote for religious freedom in 2012,” he added.  “And they’ll see 'Religious Freedom' on the ballot and that is a fairly simple definition of what it is.”

A representative from the attorney general’s office did not return a request for comment.

Bondi told the Orlando Sentinel Wednesday she will meet with the Department of State and the Legislature to “determine how best to proceed."

The state Legislature agreed last spring to put the amendment on the Nov. 6, 2012, ballot.

A coalition of opponents that includes Florida Education Association and American’s United for Separation of Church and State, in a lawsuit filed July 20, claimed the wording failed to tell voters that the amendment’s aim is to compel the state to extend benefits to religious institutions.

“The judge agreed that taxpayers and voters need to be told the truth and that the purpose and effect of the amendment was not clear in the ballot summary and was misleading to voters," Andy Ford, FEA president, said in a released statement.

Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said in a release the ruling “vindicates our position that the Legislature is once again trying to mislead the people of Florida.”

“The Legislature clearly wanted to disguise its true intentions with misleading language rather than admit to voters what the real agenda was,” Simon stated in the release. “The so-called 'Religious Freedom' amendment isn’t about religious freedom -- it’s about forcing taxpayers to provide funding for the religious activities of churches, mosques and synagogues.”

Lewis, in his ruling, noted that the ballot language gives voters the impression the law conforms to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protection of religion.

“Before, the provision was more restrictive than the First Amendment relative to spending public funds that might aid a sectarian institution. If it passes, the provision will be more restrictive as to the withholding of public funds from sectarian institutions. In both situations, the discretion constitutionally permitted to states under the First Amendment is removed.”

The proposed amendment reads:

"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."

If approved, the amendment would strike the line from Section 3 of Article I of the Florida Constitution that states:

“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 amendment seeks to replace that language with a line stating:

“No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief.



Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or (772) 215-9889.

Comments (9)

George Klaes
6:39PM DEC 17TH 2011
Lewis is wrong. When the King of Spain signed the treaty with the United States, the Congress of the United States had already provided funding to Catholic schools and the Spanish Empire had a long history of subsidizing Catholic schools.

The evidence is that the King of Spain had no reason to believe the United States government would be hostile to Catholic schools, and since the Jesuits had been instrumental in getting the Spanish King's support for the American Revolution and the support of the French King, there is no evidence to suggest the Spanish King would have regarded religious freedom as justifying discriminatory policies against the Catholics of Florida.

The "Wall of Separation" interpretation of the First Amendment has resulted in unequal treatment of children in Catholic schools and a culture of religious discrimination in the public schools.

Florida's Blaine Amendment and Article IX Section 1's "uniform public school" requirement creates a clear violation of United States Treaty, and since U.S. Treaties and the Constitution are the Supreme law of the land, Florida's Blaine Amendment is unconstitutional because it violates U.S. Treaty obligations.
3:47AM DEC 17TH 2011
That's not religious freedom, that's religious THEFT from people who don't want to support intolerant beliefs. If they want public money, let them pay taxes like the rest of us.
George Klaes
6:41PM DEC 17TH 2011
We do pay taxes nitwit. Essentially, we pay for our children's education and your children's education.
11:15AM DEC 15TH 2011
Oh yes, because religious institutions need MORE money than they already have.
10:44AM DEC 15TH 2011
I watched the discussion on the bill last spring and could see the clear intention of this bill was to siphon funds from public schools and send them to private, religious schools. There is a trend with the GOP legislators countrywide to privatize public education and this is a thinly veiled step in that direction. Let's hope intelligent voters will realize public education needs full funding and that this bill has nothing to do with religious freedom. We already have that. Separation of church and state must remain so we can have freedom of choice of religion, or not, for all.
Nicole Balmer
9:41AM DEC 15TH 2011
I support this Religious Freedom Act. It is beyond ridiculous that people of faith must fund education programs that teach a world-view (the non-religious world view) that is contrary to thier own. I pray that 100 plus years of unfairness to people of faith is overturned soon!
George Klaes
7:01PM DEC 17TH 2011
From 1790's to 1899 the U.S. government was assisting Catholic Indian Missions as required by its treaties. It also provided assistance to the Protestant Indian Missions. In 1899 when the American Protective Association reached its peak of power in the United States Congress, funding to the Catholic Indian Missions stopped, while the funding to the Protestant Indian Missions continued.

Likewise, the United States government, State and local governments have always been allowed to provide funding to the Protestant private schools and the Protestant "common schools". To this day, aid is not denied protestant private schools. The SCOTUS had at least a 5-4 anti-Catholic majority from 1947-1992. (At least 1992) For awhile, the anti-Catholic majority on the court was 8-1. Typically, it was 6-3 during the period.
Michelle K.
3:42PM DEC 15TH 2011
Fine you want goverment handouts for religion, then churches need to start paying taxes. Unfairness to people of faith is a joke. Because you're all happy and fine with the religious freedom act unless any of that funding starts being handed out to non christian groups. First check that gets sent to a Muslem, Buddhist or any other group you'll start screaming that the money is funding terrorists.
George Klaes
6:50PM DEC 17TH 2011
I support the amendment just like my Catholic veteran ancestors supported the ratification of the U.S. Constitution over the objection of the anti-Catholic, anti-Federalist religious fanatics who opposed ratification of the Constitution because it did not prohibit the Catholic religion.

I support equitable distribution of the taxes to children in every school in Florida. I think my position is more reasonable than yours.

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