Florida Amendment 8: A Trojan Horse That Could Regulate Churches’ Free Speech

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 CollinsCenter​.org.

4 Comments

  1. thank you for writing this article!

  2. Vouchers will continue to be unconstitutional regardless what takes place at the polls November 6. Passage or non-passage of Amendment 8 will not change that statement of fact.

    The focus of the amendment is government funding of social service programs today and tomorrow. Amendment 8 seeks to ensure these crucial social service programs provided by faith-based groups will continue. Recent lawsuits have put them in potential jeopardy and Amendment 8 will remove that jeopardy and allow religious groups to continue to vie for state funding of social service programs as has been the case for decades. Thousands of Floridians rely on these programs each day for health services, substance abuse treatment, housing assistance, food programs and much more.

    Reading more into this amendment than what is stated is totally misleading. The Blaine Amendment is arcane and antiquated. It does not belong in the Florida Constitution. Its removal via passage of Amendment 8 has no effect on the state establishment clause, free exercise clause and public morals clause. It is also subject to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution so that anything prohibited by the First Amendment is still prohibited under state law. Amendment 8 protects religious freedom simply by restoring the status quo we enjoyed until recently: equal treatment of religious and non-religious persons with respect to government programs.

  3. In respose to JF, one thing at a time:

    Vouchers will continue to be unconstitutional regardless what takes place at the polls November 6. Passage or non-passage of Amendment 8 will not change that statement of fact.”

    They are unconstitutional today because of the Bush v Holmes ruling using Title IX language to strike down Jeb Bush’s voucher plan. Whether or not they remain unconstitutional will be up to the courts. Three of the justices who ruled against vouchers are up for retention and a lot of money has been spent to encourage people to vote against retention.

    In fact, my statement “it will be up to the courts”, is not necessarily true, depending on the outcome of the Nov. 6th election.

    Amendment 5 on the same ballot would allow a simple majority of the legislature to overturn court rulings. Right now they can only do that with a 2/3rds majority vote.

    Considering what the make-up of the next legislature is likely to be, there is a very real possibility that if Amendment 5 passes (irregardless of whether 8 does), voucher unconstitutionality will be challenged and quite possibly overturned.

    Vote NO on 5, but vote NO on 8 also (for more reasons see next post)

  4. JF:

    Amendment 8 seeks to ensure these crucial social service programs provided by faith-based groups will continue. Recent lawsuits have put them in potential jeopardy and Amendment 8 will remove that jeopardy and allow religious groups to continue to vie for state funding of social service programs as has been the case for decades.”

    I cannot find any other lawsuit but one. The particulars of the case include the fact that the two groups were actively ‘preaching doctrine’. As long as a Catholic hospital or charity, or any other religious-affiliated group runs their social service programs like a business (for example, being non-discriminatory in who they hire and who they serve) and not like a church, there is no reason to think the current level of funding will be reduced or eliminated, or that it could not increase, if more funding was available.

    There is simply not nearly enough evidence to suggest these programs are in any real jeopardy, certainly not enough to suggest we must amend our constitution to protect them.