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