Florida Ballot Measure Would Harm Religious Liberty, Experts Say

 

Advocates for church-state separation are stepping up their efforts to educate Florida voters about a proposal on the November ballot that would strip religious liberty protections from the state constitution.

Amendment 8 would replace the current church-state language of the Florida Constitution, which explicitly prohibits taxpayer funding of sectarian institutions, and replace it with much weaker language that guarantees religious groups access to public subsidies.

Americans United and organizations in Florida are working to help Floridians understand the amendment.

“It’s stripping out all of the church-state protections and religious freedom protections that are currently in the Florida Constitution,” Maggie Garrett, AU legislative director, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

David Barkey, an attorney for the Anti-Defamation League, agreed, telling the newspaper that the proposal, which sounds vague on first reading, is dangerous.

“As a Florida taxpayer, you aren’t required to fund houses of worship that you’re not affiliated with or that you don’t agree with,” Barkey said. “I think it’s a good protection against religious division in our state. It minimizes the issue of government picking winners and losers among religious groups.”

Charles Zelden, a professor of history and legal studies at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, told the Sun-Sentinel that the average voter might have difficulty determining what the amendment will do.

“Unless someone explains it to you, it just doesn’t mean what it seems to mean,” Zelden said.

Gay rights groups in the state are also speaking out against the change, noting that if Amendment 8 passes, Floridians might be forced to support churches whose views they don’t accept.

Advocates of the change, led by the Roman Catholic hierarchy, have created a group called Yes on 8 to persuade voters that altering the Florida Constitution is a good idea.

Americans United has created a special website about Amendment 8 and the dangers it poses. You can access it by visiting: au.org/FLAmendment8