The fastest way to sum it up: this amendment seeks to negate the state’s Blaine Amendment, a long-standing amendment many states have that prohibits public funds from going to sectarian (religious) schools. (The full resolution and proposed changes can be found here.)
This is what you’ll see on the ballot (*):
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 of 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.
There’s a lot of ballotspeak going on there; my cynical side believes that was deliberate. If you’re the type to skim a ballot measure, pick out a few keys words and vote based on those few words, you might not be picking up the really important words among all the five dollar phrases you’re trying to define on the fly.
When you break it down, what you get is essentially this: We want to change the state constitution so that any church, sect, or religious denomination has full access to taxpayer funds.
At the heart of the proponents’ argument is that the Blaine Amendment restricts people’s access to sectarian services they might want or need. But organizations like Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services and Jewish federations already get funding from the state for secular public programs. Those funds are not in jeopardy, either with or without the passage of this new amendment.
What is as stake is Florida citizen’s ability to keep their tax dollars from funding religious organizations or schools. This amendment will go far to weaken the separation of church and state.
If the amendment is passed, there is nothing in place to provide oversight and regulation for the taxpayers monies. There are no requirements for who would be eligible for taxpayer funding: “any church, sect, or religious denomination or … any sectarian institution.”
And that right there is how you really tell which way to vote on an amendment like this. It may be beautifully wrapped in Religious Freedom!! but if look at who supports it — and who doesn’t — you’ll get a pretty good idea of whose religious freedoms it’s really designed to protect.
The only proponents I’ve been able to find are PACs (Citizens for Religious Freedom and Non-Discrimination, and Florida Family Action), churches (Florida Catholic Conference and Diocese of Venice), and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. (source)
The opponents? The Florida Educator’s Association. The Florida PTA. The ACLU. The League of Women Voters. The National Council of Jewish Women. (source)
If you need more, here are both sides to the story:
This amendment is trying to make the argument that withholding public funds from religious groups is religious discrimination (as opposed to what it really is, separation of church and state). It seems to me that “individual or entity” is really just ballotspeak for “churches are people, my friend.”
And we know where that will get us.
*In December 2011 a judge found part of the original amendment “ambiguous and misleading.” It was kicked off the ballot, but because of a prior legislative ruling allowing the state Attorney General to rewrite rejected proposals, Attorney General Pam Biondi had ten days to rewrite the measure. She did, and this has been placed on the ballot. (source)