Executive Director, ACLU of Florida
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.