Next week, Florida vot­ers will decide on whether to remove lan­guage in the Florida State Con­sti­tu­tion that bars reli­gious or sec­tar­ian insti­tu­tions from receiv­ing state money. Cur­rently reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions are able to use state money for char­i­ta­ble pur­poses but are barred from using it to spread reli­gious messages.Florida Amendment 8 - Trojan Horse

The bal­lot mea­sure, termed a “reli­gious free­dom” amend­ment by the state leg­is­la­ture, has caused con­cern among pub­lic edu­ca­tors because of fears could open the door for a voucher sys­tem that would allow pub­lic money to go to reli­gious schools.  The Florida Supreme Court over­turned school vouch­ers in 2006 but the amend­ment could open the door to vouch­ers in the future.

When it comes to pub­lic vouch­ers, pub­lic edu­ca­tors are con­cerned about decreased fund­ing and some reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions are con­cerned about increased reg­u­la­tion of their cur­ricu­lum by the state. State money to reli­gious insti­tu­tions does not come with­out strings attached, and reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions that value their auton­omy should care­fully con­sider the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of accept­ing state funds.

There are basic argu­ments that non-believers should not be forced to sup­port reli­gious mes­sages they dis­agree with, but the stronger argu­ment in my view comes from the reli­gious side where con­ser­v­a­tives should main­tain a healthy fear of attempts of gov­ern­ment attempts to reg­u­late their hir­ing prac­tices and speech which often comes attached to finan­cial arrangements.

For instance, tax-exempt sta­tus pre­cludes pas­tors from endors­ing polit­i­cal can­di­dates. It is not incon­ceiv­able that accep­tance of state money could be an avenue for lim­i­ta­tion of speech on a vari­ety of moral issues such as same-sex mar­riage in schools and churches. It is likely that orga­ni­za­tions that begin to accept this money will by neces­sity become more sec­u­lar over time as state laws against reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion are applied through the pres­sures of pol­icy, leg­is­la­tion, and litigation.

Florida’s Amend­ment 8 is being pro­moted under a guise of “reli­gious free­dom,” but accept­ing state funds will sub­ject reli­gious insti­tu­tions to increased reg­u­la­tion that would actu­ally restrict free speech.

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For more infor­ma­tion on Florida Amend­ment 8, includ­ing the text of the amend­ment and argu­ments for and against Amend­ment 8, visit CollinsCen​ter​.org.