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 www.votenoon8.com.

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


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

  1. 1 John Fakess September 22, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Thank you for this important information.

  2. 2 Bob September 22, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    With money so tight in most state and local budgets they want to take our tax dollars and turn them over to religious groups. I do not pay taxes to support religious groups. I am a veteran and a retired cop and this violates the US constitutions first amendment reference to church and state. Ancient history is replete with examples of the mixing and melding of Church and state. Typically a successful ruler or king would assume various “priestly” titles, in addition to the “temporal” titles that such a position tended to confer. So now would our Government politicos make themselves Priests, Ministers, Imam, Sheikhs or Rabbi’s to control the religious groups and the State with divine power? History is our best teacher. Even if this passed in Florida the Supreme Court of the US would e null it on appeal.

  3. 3 Beverly Castricone September 22, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Thank You for this information also. I can see how it could easily be misinterpreted. I hope you can use as many avenues as possible to get this information out there.

  4. 4 Thomas September 22, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Yeah, That;s what Religious institutions need is more un-taxed money. How about an amendment for taxing churches that would be beneficial to everyone.

    • 5 Michael September 22, 2012 at 3:32 pm

      I’ve never really understood why religion is not taxed, except that they have powerful friends. They own so much land and property that’s off the tax rolls. They’re like corporations. I’ve got to start up my own corporate church. No doubt about it.

      • 7 Kay September 25, 2012 at 5:46 am

        I totally agree with you churches should be taxed its wrong that they get away with this in todays world ! I’m definitely voting no on 8 !

    • 8 Jo Losturo September 23, 2012 at 7:44 pm

      I couldn’t agree more! Religion needs to be relegated to a position of less importance and, certainly NOT subsidized by the U. S. Government! Why do we need to continue to allow them tax exempt status? ALL religions rake in more money than the wealthiest corporations. I don’t believe in religion, needless to say–so I really don’t want MY money going to such bogus causes! Let each religions’ followers donate– the way it’s been forever. Seems fairer than forcing those who don’t condone, belong, or participate to “donate” their tax dollars!

  5. 9 Larry Scaduto September 22, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    I would like to tax all religions because underneath all of their rhetoric and fantasy beliefs, they are money producing machines.

  6. 10 Ricardo September 22, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    I agree with Thomas. We could fund many more worthwhile causes by taxing the churches. Heck, we could probably balance the budget just on the property tax of the Roman Catholic Church alone!

  7. 11 Richard Baker September 22, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    I agree with Thomas; although the thought of a burning cross in my yard—-

  8. 12 chris reynolds September 22, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    I am trying to discern if the language implies that the state constitution is significantly different for the US Constintuition and also if the changes proposed would actually violate the US Constitution.

    Can someone clarify this for me factually
    Thank you

  9. 13 sue wiley September 22, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    let’s not go there. churches serve a wonderful good. they need to be
    totally separate from the government and not be tied into government money . governments do not need to be imbedded into the churches’
    programs and responsibilities. yes, let’s keep them separate.

  10. 14 Alan September 22, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    The radical religious right-wing Republicans at it again. Vote No on all the Amendments they’ve put on the November ballot!!!

  11. 15 Robert L. Perkins September 23, 2012 at 12:43 am

    The same old stuff decade after decade. Century after century. I vigorously reject the notion that any religion has the right to public support for any program, including the building and operation of colleges and universities. Many of us who believe vigorously in God, the Christian God that is, reject any support from the state for our churches and religious institutions, except the maintenance of civil order, simply because religions cannot be trusted with the powers of the state. Also, the holders of state power cannot be trusted to treat all religions even-handedly. This criticism includes every form of Christianity and Islam, those religions we are most familiar with in the West.

    The self-defined sacred task of the various religions is task enough for them. The last thing one religion should attempt is to convert persons identified to another religion.

    Are all religions of the same value? Of course not. They are known by their works on behalf of suffering humans.

  12. 16 Kay September 23, 2012 at 3:53 am

    Yeah Thomas that sounds good lets tax the rich churches and give the benefits to the everyone I’m with you !

  13. 17 Lyle Jaffe September 23, 2012 at 6:45 am

    For more information explaining how the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was given the grant from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in the first place see http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/gpr/15/3/gpr150314.html, section “The Trafficking Victims Program”. The Bishops did explicity state that they would follow their religious beliefs when applying. The DHHS, however, violated the first amendment by giving them the grant.

  14. 18 Thomass September 23, 2012 at 7:16 am

    Religion is the single most divisive entity in the world.

  15. 19 James Mejuto September 23, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    What about Amendments 5 & 6 ?

  16. 20 Bea Donis September 23, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    A very good warning! We voters have to be alert to such changes!

  17. 22 arthur hager September 24, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Religious entities should pay property taxes on property their secondary functions, such as schools or day care centers. The congregation already takes a tax reduction on their donations, so why should the religious organization get the benefit of two tax deductions.

  18. 23 Leslie Bulter September 24, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    “Congress shall make NO law respecting the establishment of religion…” means No legislature shall make a law which respects the establishment of religion. Religious educational institutions should not receive educational funds collected in the name of providing a free and public education to Florida’s students. In the 1960’s religious schools were created to preserve segregation. Vote No on any amendment proposed by the this state legislature.

  19. 24 Gerry September 25, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    The FL Democratic Party as well as the League of Women Voters have voted AGAINST ALL 11 Constitutional Amendment on the ballot and are advising that we summarily vote against ALL of them.

  20. 25 Donna September 25, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Yes! Churches should have to pay property taxes. It could solve this country’s financial woes. Every county in every state in the U.S.A. would benefit greatly, which would help the people with lowered taxes.

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