Skip to comments.Suit filed over proposed amendment to lift ban on funding for religious groups
Posted on 07/26/2011 9:14:08 PM PDT by TheDingoAteMyBaby
A Palm Coast rabbi and an Ormond Beach school principal are front and center in a legal challenge filed Wednesday to a 2012 ballot proposal that would repeal Florida's constitutional ban on using public money to aid churches and other religious organizations.
Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, who lives in Palm Coast and is the spiritual leader of Temple Shalom in Deltona, and Pine Trail Elementary Principal Susan Persis are among nine plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Tallahassee. Others include leaders of the statewide teachers union and other school-related organizations and clergy from several denominations.
They claim the constitutional amendment, which Florida lawmakers want on the November 2012 ballot, would clear a potential obstacle to expanding voucher programs that let students attend religious and other private schools at taxpayer expense.
The lawsuit alleges Amendment 7's ballot summary and title -- "Religious Freedom" -- are misleading. State law requires they be clear, unambiguous and accurately reflect an amendment's effect.
"This is designed to open up the state treasury to voucher schools, but that's not what the title of the amendment and the ballot summary say," said teachers union president Andy Ford.
Chris Cate, a spokesman for Secretary of State Kurt Browning, the defendant, said only that the lawsuit was under review, but the amendment's sponsors disputed its allegations.
"They are trying to paint a picture that if this is repealed that the state is going to put a million dollar check in the offering of the Baptist Church and that is simply them being untruthful," said Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood. "All this does is make sure that our constitution does not treat people of faith differently than any others."
Besides vouchers, the amendment would affect faith-based hospitals, social service organizations and other entities that now get taxpayer funds to provide public services as long as they don't promote their religious beliefs.
It would replace the ban with a new provision prohibiting government agencies from denying "the benefits of any program, funding, or other support on the basis of religious identity or belief." Like other amendments, it would require 60 percent voter approval to pass.
The measure's opponents say that language would not only allow but require taxpayer funding of religious activities, which is not reflected in the summary.
"It's not just about vouchers and not about religious freedom, but rather religious coercion, coercing every Floridian to support religious organizations that are antithetical to their own," said Shapiro, who's also national board president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
"That's crossing the line of separation of church and state that we cannot tolerate," Shapiro said.
Persis became part of the lawsuit as immediate past president of the Florida Association of School Administrators.
"I don't think anyone should get benefits or funding on the basis of religious identity or belief," Persis said. "It's as if the state is trying to take away from public education and giving to other, mostly religious, schools."
“I wonder what happened to all those churches and why are they now denying or refusing to quote some parts of scripture?”
I am a member of a church that was established with the idea that we will not be part of the government. We have never applied for government tax exemption, and all our members know that their tithes are not tax exempt.
We are Baptist, and free from any government control. We preach what we want without government control.
Taxpayers should not be funding religious organiations any more than they should be funding for-profit corporations (GE, GM), political organizations (ACORN, La Raza) or anything else. Government should cease funding non-government entities, period.
I totally support that idea.
Agreed. I would also be concerned about Islamic organizations receiving taxpayer monies.
I agree. And divert all of the funding to Acorn. /s
I like the 60% requirement we now have to have in order to pass constitutional amendments but think this might not make it. I see the usual list of Left-wing organizations have lined up against it.
I’m all for it. It would finally allow parents to send their kids to whatever kind of school they want if they are stuck in a “failing” school. The State won’t be able to prohibit parents from sending their kids to public or private schools using state voucher money. The parents can choose whatever option they like.
I can see why this pisses off the teachers. They hate competition.