As mail-in ballots are delivered to voters all across Florida, they are now seeing the scope of the many important decisions they must make this election year. Some of the hardest decisions for voters may be reviewing the 11 amendments to our state Constitution, all proposed by the Florida Legislature.
While the League urges Florida voters to reject each and every one of these 11 state proposals, one in particular should give Floridians who care about quality public education a particular fright.
Amendment 8 is a dagger pointed at the heart of public education in Florida.
Amendment 8, the so-called Religious Freedom revision to the State Constitution, is a particularly glaring example of a deceptively named amendment that actually will do nothing close to what its alluring title promises.
This amendment is not about religious freedom at all, but about allowing state government to give public funds to any private religious organization it chooses.
Here's the background: For more than 125 years, the Florida Constitution has included language, known as the "no aid" clause, which guarantees the separation of church and state. It prohibits state government from giving tax money to religious groups for religious programs. That language has helped block the use of taxpayers' money for vouchers for private and religious school students. At the same time it has not blocked faith-based organizations from using tax funds to provide services like drug treatment or job training for the poor — as long as people are served without regard to their religious affiliation or beliefs.
Voting no on this amendment will not stop that kind of program from being administered by faith-based groups, despite what supporters of Amendment 8 may say.
The proposed amendment is harmful to Florida in two ways. First, it tears down the separation of church and state that we have valued in the United States since our founding. If Amendment 8 passes, the prohibition on taxpayer funding for groups for religious purposes will be eliminated. In its place would be a provision that would keep state government from denying funding to any group — even if it were using your tax money to further that group's particular religious purposes. State funds could go to any and all religions — some you may support, some you may not, without any accountability.
Second, the Legislature placed Amendment 8 on the ballot in a transparent attempt to smooth the way for private school vouchers. If it passes, the path toward creation of a universal voucher program becomes easier — with devastating impacts on public education. A universal voucher program could drain billions of dollars from public schools, according to a recent study from the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy. Florida already is on the lowest tier of school funding in the nation. How can we cope with further budget cuts and drains on school funding?
Because of the damage to separation of church and state and to public education, statewide organizations like the Florida PTA and the League of Women Voters of Florida oppose Amendment 8.
Don't be fooled by the misleading Religious Freedom title on Amendment 8. Vote no on Amendment 8 and all proposed amendments to the state Constitution this year. It's time to move Florida forward, not undermine core democratic principles or pollute our Constitution with initiatives that don't belong in our fundamental governing document.