An effort by Florida legislators to direct more funds to religious institutions by amending the state constitution has incited a legal battle launched by groups all over the state.
The Florida Education Association (FEA) and religious leaders have announced that they are teaming up to fight the repeal of a part of the Florida constitution that bans state funds from going to religious institutions. The amendment is set to appear on the state’s 2012 ballot.
In a statement today, the FEA says the current “no-aid” provision “protects the religious freedom rights of all Floridians by barring taxpayer-funded aid to religious institutions.”
“This is a shady way of opening the door for school vouchers for all,” said FEA President Andy Ford. “Throughout the nation, voters have repeatedly rejected voucher initiatives, which would weaken our public schools. The leadership of the Legislature realized this, so they approved an amendment whose ballot title, ‘Religious Freedom,’ and summary are misleading.”
Educators from all over the state who are opposed to the state directly funding religious schools, religious leaders, and other groups have come together to file a lawsuit, trying to stop the amendment from appearing on next year’s ballot.
Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, who has spoken out against this amendment since its introduction in the Legislature, has filed a lawsuit with American’s United for Separation of Church and state — along with other religious leaders in the state.
Shapiro told The Florida Independent that religious institutions championing the measure were making a mistake.
“Those in the religious world think this only means they will be getting more money from the state,” Shapiro said. “They are wrong.”
Shapiro explained that bigger problems will arise down the road when religious institutions are further entangled with the government. ”It’s a thicket they can’t get out of,” Shapiro warned. “Once you take that money, the government can make stipulations.”
The Anti-Defamation League said it will also “act as legal counsel to a group of Floridians who today filed a lawsuit seeking the removal of Amendment 7 from Florida’s November 2012 ballot.”
The ballot measure has been one of the more controversial efforts by the Legislature this year. Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida released a report that said state legislators “misled” the public by saying the original funding ban was a historically bigoted law aimed at keeping public funds away from Catholics.
The ACLU of Florida has also joined the lawsuit against the measure.