Amendment 8 has a convoluted history. This proposal, which would remove a 126-year state constitutional provision known as the Blaine Amendment that prohibits taxpayer funding of religious institutions, began life as Amendment 7. That proposal was challenged in court by several education groups, and in December 2011, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that the Legislature’s measure was deceptively worded and removed it from the ballot.
The lawsuit also challenged a new law that allows the Florida attorney general to rewrite rejected proposed amendments. The judge didn’t overturn the new law, which requires the attorney general to rewrite the proposal within 10 days of the court’s decision.
Attorney General Pam Bondi promptly rewrote the wording of the measure, placing the proposal back on the ballot as Amendment 8. Now called the Florida Religious Freedom Amendment, it states that no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, government benefits, funding or other support — except as required by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Then it proposes removing the Blaine Amendment from the Florida Constitution.
Local school boards rightly oppose Amendment 8, as it would open the door wide for a student voucher program, where state taxpayers’ money would be used to pay for tuition at private religious schools.
Supporters insist the amendment is needed because pending lawsuits threaten the ability of religiously affiliated organizations to provide services to the needy under government contracts. Yet the courts have made clear that contracting services with such groups as Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity or Jewish Community Services to feed the poor, house the homeless or help immigrants would not be imperiled. These organizations already are eligible for — and receive — federal and state dollars to operate many such programs.
We find this amendment still disingenuously worded. The proposal is not about religious freedom at all, but rather a blatant attempt to use public money to finance private religious institutions.
On Amendment 8, The Miami Herald recommends: Vote No.