Archive for September, 2012

What is Amendment 8 – the Misleading-Titled “Religious Freedom” Amendment?

Howard Simon
Executive Director, ACLU of Florida

Howard Simon, Executive Director, ACLU of FloridaFor 127 years, Florida’s constitution (and that of 36 other states) has protected one of our oldest American values, the separation of church and state, by the following principle:

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.

The provision applies to every religious group. No group is singled out. It requires that government funds not be used to fund any religion. It requires that religious programs are to be funded by parishioners, not taxpayers.

The provision was re-enacted by the voters in 1968, 1978 and again in 1998.

The constitutional principle barring government funding of religion – the heart of separation of church and state – prohibits taxpayer funds for churches or religious purposes. Religiously-affiliated charities continue to receive contracts from government agencies – but these contracts are for programs that serve the needs of the community (hospitals, soup kitchens, vocational training, substance abuse counseling and many others), not to further religion.

This protection for government contracts has been reiterated in the two cases that are inexplicably cited by proponents of Amendment 8 as the reason why the “no aid” provision threatens the work of religiously-affiliated organizations. Both cases (the DCA decision in Bush v. Holmes and the DCA decision in Council for Secular Humanism v. McNeil) state emphatically: “…nothing in the Florida no-aid provision would create a constitutional ban to state aid to a non-profit institution that was not itself sectarian, even if the institution is affiliated with a religious order or religious organization.”

That is not all. Amendment 8 would repeal our constitutional tradition of separation of church and state and replace it with the following:

Except to the extent required by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, neither the government nor any agent of the government may deny to any individual or entity the benefits of any program, funding, or other support on the basis of religious identity or belief.

This goes beyond the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and creates an entitlement under the Florida Constitution for any individual or entity (whatever that may be!) that calls itself a religion to receive any government “benefit.” No oversight or accountability is required for how the taxpayers’ funds are spent.

The “benefit” could include not only a voucher for a religious education at a church-run school but a health program that denies information about contraception to victims of human trafficking.

For example, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has refused to provide contraception or referrals for contraception in programs funded by grants under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The Bishops claim they have a religious freedom right to get the government contract and withhold services that violate their religious beliefs — regardless of the requirements of the contract and even though the funds were allocated to cover the full range of health care services for this vulnerable population. A federal court has ruled that, under the U.S. Constitution, a religious group cannot use taxpayer funds to impose its beliefs by denying vital health care services. The Bishops have appealed.

Amendment 8 is an attempt to legalize this practice in Florida by amending our state Constitution.

To learn more about the campaign to defeat Amendment 8 in Florida, visit

You can also download this fact sheet as a PDF to share with your friends.


ACLU hosts informative breakfast for Miami-area Hispanic media

By Bill Lara Director/Editor In Chief International Press Club Miami

In the midst of the GOP and DNC national conventions, the trenches are filled with the local activists of one political persuasion or another clawing at the wheels within the wheels of local government politicking. The ACLU is right in the middle of the fight and, it has its hands full.

Thursday morning, the ACLU hosted a breakfast for the Miami-area Hispanic media. The breakfast was organized by the Florida Association of Hispanic Journalists and the International Press club-Miami. On this occasion, the main objective was to muster some support for the ACLU’s legal and political battle against Florida Governor Rick Scott’s administration, which they are suing to oppose number of amendments (5,6 & 8) and, specifically at this moment, what the organization calls the “Voter Suppression Law,” a.k.a. HB-1355.


After a brief but energetic video greeting from Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU, Howard Simon, the Florida Director of the ACLU and most senior member of the entire organization, gave a brief introduction to the program and began to enumerate all the arenas the ACLU is involved in, but emphasized the current problem with the apparent intent of these laws to make it harder for minorities, elderly and students to exercise their right to vote.

Even though the challenges to the legislation are individual and will have to be disputed independently of each other, they all stem from one single set of basic facts — there is an almost insignificant amount of documented cases of voter fraud (1/4 of 1 percent in Florida and 81 out of 300 million voters nationwide). However, the laws the legislature is attempting to pass would deny the right of vote to hundreds of thousands of legitimate voters while trying to prevent a crime for which fewer 100 people have been accused in the past few years.


The featured amendments singled-out by the ACLU in Florida are politically complicated. According to the ACLU presentation and handout literature, Amendment Five gives elected officials more control over the courts making judges vulnerable to the influence of said politicians. Amendment Six allows politicians to get involved in decisions traditionally only between a private individual and his/her doctor. And finally, Amendment Eight would allow religious groups to get government financial support and yet keep their tax exempt status.


In this occasion, and fortunately for the organizers, the turnout was excellent and the interest in the subject matter was so strong that there was an extended discussion way past breakfast with lively participation from the guests. The attending media included the Editor of the very popular and long standing Diario Las Americas, Mexican Consul Juan Miguel Gutierrez Tinoco, the Hispanic Affairs Director for the Israeli consulate, and representatives of the Florida Association of Hispanic Journalists as well as for the International Press Club-Miami, to name a few.


To access the material that was distributed during the event please visit:

To read the welcoming remarks by Howard Simon, Executive Director of ACLU of Florida, please click here 

To see the presentation power point, click here

To see the welcome video in Spanish by National ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero, click here

Post edited for space. Full story at: