Florida Religious Freedom, Amendment 8 (2012)

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Religious Freedom Amendment
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Type:Constitutional amendment
Constitution:Article I, Section 3
Referred by:Florida State Legislature
Topic:Religion
Status:On the ballot
A Florida Religious Freedom, Amendment 7 will appear on the November 6, 2012 state ballot in Florida as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment.

The proposed measure would prevent individuals from being barred from participating in public programs if they choose to use public funds at a religious provider. Essentially, the measure moves to repeal the state's ban of public dollars for religious funding, also known as the "Blaine Amendment."[1][2][3]

The measure requires 60 percent voter approval for adoption.

On December 14, 2011 Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that the legislatively-proposed measure would no longer appear on the 2012 ballot. However, a new state law which was not overturned by the lawsuit, allows the Florida Attorney General to rewrite the proposal. This must have been done within 10 days, according to that law, which it was.[4] Read more about the lawsuit here.

On December 20, 2011, Attorney General Pam Bondi rewrote the wording of the ballot measure, placing the proposal back on the ballot. Read the revised text here and on this article's lawsuit section.[5]

Text of measure

The proposed ballot question reads:[6][5]

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.

Constitutional changes

The proposed measure would amend Section 3 of Article I of the Florida Constitution to read:[6]

Text of Section 3: Religious Freedom

There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals, peace, or safety. No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief. No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.

Lawsuit

See also: List of ballot measure lawsuits in 2012 and 2012 ballot measure litigation
2012 measure lawsuits
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Initiative process

On July 20, 2011 the Florida Education Association (FEA) along with an inter-faith clergy group and some school administrators filed a lawsuit to block the proposed measure.[7] Also involved in the suit is Lee Swift, president of the Florida School Board Association, and Susan Summers-Persis, president of the Florida Association of School Administrators. Opponents argue that the measure's title and ballot summary are misleading. FEA describes the proposed measure as an "underhanded attempt to legalize state tuition vouchers for private schools, including church-affiliated schools."[8] "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 union president Andy Ford.[9]

Measure supporter Rep. Scott Plakon said, "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. All this does is make sure that our constitution does not treat people of faith differently than any others."[9]

In response, Rep. Scott Randolph said, "Throughout the 2011 legislative session, Republican legislators disguised the proposed constitutional amendment as one that would merely protect religious freedom and end religious discrimination. But in actuality, this proposal has one purpose: to allow the unlimited use of taxpayers’ money to send children to private schools instead of building a quality public school system."[10]

The filed lawsuit also challenges 2011 legislation that allows for the Florida Attorney General's office to rewrite ballot summaries or titles when the Florida Supreme Court removes a certified measure from the statewide ballot. The lawsuit argues that authority for such a changes lies only in the Florida State Legislature.[11]

The lawsuit was heard October 27, 2011.[12][13][14]

The case was heard by Judge Terry Lewis. The case (Shapiro v. Browning) number is 2011-CA-1892.

Court ruling

On December 14, 2011 Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that the legislatively-proposed measure would no longer appear on the 2012 ballot. Specifically, Lewis ruled that the phrase "consistent with the U.S. Constitution" was ambiguous and misleading. The phrase, Lewis said, implies that it would make the Florida Constitution conform with the U.S. Constitution's 1st Amendment.[4]

The lawsuit also challenged 2011 legislation that allows for the Florida Attorney General's office to rewrite ballot summaries or titles when the Florida Supreme Court removes a certified measure from the statewide ballot. Lewis rejected that challenge. "The law under review does not, after all, give the Attorney General authority to re-write the amendment itself -- only the description of it," Lewis said.[4]

Because the 2011 state law was not overturned, the Florida Attorney General still maintained the authority to rewrite the proposal. This was done within 10 days, which was the allotted time to do so.

Measure re-written

On December 20, 2011, Attorney General Pam Bondi rewrote the proposal, and therefore the measure was placed on the ballot for a second time.[4]

The new language of the proposal reads: "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."[5]

Despite new language, some argue that the measure remains misleading. Rabbi Merrill Shapiro of First Congregation Sons of Israel and the primary plaintiff in the case said that Amendment 7 would repeal provisions in the Florida Constitution to prohibit the use of public funds for religious institutions. However, Shapiro notes that the current ballot language does not make that clear.[15] Howard Simon, the executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said "the proposal continues to mislead voters by failing to inform them of the chief purpose and actual impact of the amendment – to virtually require taxpayer funding of religious activities of churches, mosques and synagogues."[16]

In early January 2012 a lawyer for the education groups and clergy members said that they did not plan to pursue a legal challenge against the revised language.[17]

Path to the ballot

See also: Florida law for legislatively-referred constitutional amendments

In order to qualify for the November 2012 ballot the proposed amendment requires approval by a minimum of 60% in the both the House and the Senate. On April 27, 2011 the House voted 81-35 on HJR 1471. The Senate gave final approval to refer the measure to the statewide ballot on May 6 following a 26-10 vote.[18][19]

Timeline

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The following is a timeline of events surrounding the measure:

Event Date Developments
Approval Apr. 27, 2011 The House voted 81-35 in favor of the measure.
Final approval May 6, 2011 Senate gave final approval to refer the measure to the statewide ballot.

See also

By Bailey Ludlam
Ballot measure writer

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Articles

External links

Additional reading

Editorials

References

  1. Florida State Senate,"SJR 1218: Religious Freedom (status and summary)," retrieved April 13, 2011
  2. Associated Press,"Repeal of Fla. ban on religious funding gets boost," April 13, 2011
  3. The Palm Beach Post,"Voters to get chance to lift religious ban," May 6, 2011
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 The Palm Beach Post,"Fla. judge knocks religious funding question off ballot; attorney general could put it back on," December 14, 2011
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 News-Press, "Bondi rewrites Amendment 7 summary", December 20, 2011
  6. 6.0 6.1 Florida State Senate,"HJR 1471 full text," retrieved May 13, 2011
  7. The Miami Herald,"Teachers union aims to block attempt to lift ban on tax money for religious organizations," July 19, 2011
  8. Florida Capital Bureau,"FEA sues to block voucher amendment," July 20, 2011
  9. 9.0 9.1 Associated Press,"Repeal of Fla. ban on religious funding challenged," July 20, 2011
  10. The Bradenton Times,"Rep. Scott Randolph Applauds Legal Challenge of HJR 1471," July 23, 2011
  11. Ocala.com,"Teachers sue over validity of proposed amendment to state constitution," July 20, 2011
  12. The Palm Beach Post,"Florida merit-pay law challenge is part of bigger fight by unions against GOP legislatures," September 14, 2011
  13. Associated Press,"Judge hearing challenge to Fla. religion amendment," October 27, 2011
  14. News-Press,"Court battle begins over ballot measure," October 27, 2011
  15. Historic City,"Shapiro: Amendment 7 re-write still deceptive," December 23, 2011
  16. The Florida Independent,"Faith leaders say ‘Religious Freedom’ amendment is still misleading," December 21, 2011
  17. Associated Press,"Revised Fla. religion amendment not challenged," January 3, 2012
  18. Florida State Senate,"HJR 1471 vote history," retrieved May 9, 2011
  19. Associated Press,"Senate approves repeal of religious aid ban," May 6, 2011