Faith leaders say ‘Religious Freedom’ amendment is still misleading

By | 12.21.11 | 4:19 pm

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (Pic via myfloridalegal.com)

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, one of the many groups challenging a 2012 ballot measure that would eliminate restrictions on state funding for religious institutions, says a recent rewrite of the proposed amendment is still misleading.

This week, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi rewrote the amendment, as ordered by a Leon County judge a week ago. However, she only made a minor tweak that was pointed out by the judge.

Groups maintain the small change has not made the ballot measure less misleading. Howard Simon, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union 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.”

Americans United, which joined the ACLU in challenging the amendment, says in a press release today that ”the Florida attorney general’s rewrite of a religion amendment scheduled for the November ballot is disappointing.”

According to the group:

Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, “I am deeply disappointed with the attorney general’s rewriting of this amendment. Her version still fails to make it clear to the voters that Amendment 7 mandates taxpayer funding of religion.

“If this goes on the November ballot,” Lynn continued, “I hope voters do their homework. This amendment is not about religious freedom; it’s about forcing all Florida taxpayers to subsidize houses of worship, religious schools and other ministries whether they want to or not.”

Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, lead plaintiff in the Shapiro v. Browning lawsuit, observed, “The Florida Constitution, as it now stands, ensures our right to contribute our hard-earned money only to the religious institutions of our free choice. Amendment 7 takes away that right and allows the politicians in Tallahassee to make that decision for us.

“It’s imperative,” said Shapiro of Temple Shalom in Deltona, “that voters know what’s at stake here. The legislature is trying to pull a fast one, and Floridians need to know it.”

In addition to Shapiro (who serves as president of the Americans United Board of Trustees), other clergy who joined the lawsuit include the Rev. Harry Parrott of Clay County, who is a retired Baptist minister; the Rev. Harold Brockus of St. Petersburg, a retired pastor of a Pinellas Park congregation affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ; the Rev. Kent Siladi of Rockledge, who is the Conference Minister for the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ; Rabbi Jack Romberg of Temple Israel in Tallahassee; and the Rev. Bobby Musengwa, who is pastor of Maximo Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg.

Merrill said earlier this year that bigger problems will arise down the road if religious institutions are further entangled with the government, which is what this amendment proposes. “It’s a thicket they can’t get out of,” Shapiro warned. “Once you take that money, the government can make stipulations.”

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