When people look at the Florida ballot, their eyes glaze over as they come to the constitutional amendments. That’s understandable. The ballot is laughably long.
But the Florida amendments matter — at least they do to the people who are spending millions trying to sway your vote.
Take Amendment 8. It’s titled “Religious Freedom” and it would bar the government from denying funds to organizations or institutions based on “religious identity or belief.” The proposal also strikes the current state ban on using state money “directly or indirectly in aid of any church sect or religious denomination, or in aid of any sectarian institution.”
The Archdiocese of Miami is all in on this one. It has donated $84,195 in support of the amendment, according to an analysis by the Florida Center for Investigative Journalism, which looked at the money lining up for and against each of the 11 amendments. The archdiocese’s sister dioceses in St. Pete, Orlando and Palm Beach have each also kicked in tens of thousands of dollars. Knights of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal organization, forked over $100,000.
And yet, that’s tip-jar money compared to what opponents of the measure are pushing into the pot. The ACLU of South Florida dug deep, anteing up more than $180,000 to fight Amendment 8. Something called The Public Education Defense Fund (an arm of the Florida Education Association, says FCIR) has outdone the ACLU, throwing in a cool $1 million.
Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, acknowledged his outfit is “dipping into our reserves” to fight Amendment 8, but says it is actually part of a three-pronged attack on that amendment and two others: 5 and 6. Amendment 5 would give lawmakers greater sway over the makeup of the state Supreme Court while Amendment 6 expressly prohibits the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions or insurance that covers abortion (except in the case of rape, incest or when the health of the mother is in danger).
“This is really unusual for us,” Simon said. “We have a ‘rainy-day fund’ for emergencies.... Well, if you look at the Florida ballot, you know it is pouring. Three core civil liberties values — the independence of the courts, women’s rights and separation of church and state — are on the ballot for repeal.. We can’t stand idly by and let it happen.”
Simon said the ACLU is particularly irked by the title “Religious Freedom,” calling it a deliberate effort by lawmakers to hoodwink the public.
“Who’s going to vote against something called ‘Religious freedom?’ ” he asked. “You have to be a thoughtful person to realize that it’s not about religious freedom, it’s about money.”
As for the Miami Archdiocese, it is not only waging a battle for Amendment 8, but it has also joined the push for Amendment 6, the abortion amendment.
The archdiocese has matched its pro-Amendment-8 contribution, as have the dioceses in St. Pete, Orlando and Palm Beach, kicking in a total of $308,000 to support Amendment 6.
Explained Mary Ross Agosta, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami, in an email: “It is not very often that we [do] this for ballot issues, but this is not the first time. We never promote a political party or candidate [but] we do talk about issues. The Catholic Church of the United States has always spoken out about issues — most recently, its opposition to the HHS Mandate [on insurance coverage for women’s contraceptives] due to its overlapping into our First Amendment right [to] religious freedom.”