A Ballot Measure in Florida Could Give Taxpayer Money to Religious Schools

The Broward County School Board in Florida, like many other districts in the state, has laid off a lot of teachers over the past few years. Things have gotten a little better, but they still rely on taxpayer money to function properly.

This November, there’s a ballot measure that could make it even harder for public school districts in the state (like Broward County) to provide adequate support to their students.

It’s called Amendment 8 (a.k.a. the Religious Freedom Amendment).

What’s Amendment 8 all about?

Right now, Article 1, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution says this:

There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals, peace or safety. 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.

Makes perfect sense. The government shouldn’t be supporting religion.

If people vote “Yes on 8,” however, this is how the same section would look:

There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals, peace, or safety. No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief.

That’s a fancy way of saying that private religious schools could siphon away taxpayer money from public schools in order to advance their faith.

This can’t happen.

Even the Broward County School Board released a resolution letting voters know what they’re in for:

“Amendment 8 would remove the long-standing restriction in the Florida Constitution that prohibits the expenditure of public funds to support religious programs,” the resolution reads. “Passage of Amendment 8 could result in state funds being awarded to non-public schools, instead of allocated to support public and charter schools.”

60% of Florida voters must approve the ballot measure in order for it to pass, so groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State are urging Floridians to vote against the measure. In fact, they have a huge list of reasons why letting this amendment pass would be detrimental to all Floridians, including religious people.

Tell the people you know to vote No on Amendment 8.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

    Simply astounding.  Years and years of separation obliterated by a single resolution (in that one state… so far…).  Such a selfish attitude… selfish and self-serving.  I shouldn’t be surprised but sometimes, I still can’t help it.

  • Sean Fraser

    I registered to vote simply to shoot this down.

  • Aaronlane

    These ballot measures wouldn’t keep coming up if public schools were more responsive to parent’s concerns and started… well, not sucking out loud.

    The public schools (read: teachers unions) have long held that they know what’s best. They know where your kid should go to school, what they should be taught, how, for how long, and by whom. When scores come back in, THEN it’s time to blame the parents for not being involved enough.

    Parents (and everyone else) are paying their money into a failed system, then we act shocked when they want to stop, and do with it what they want?

  • pagansister

    I live in Florida and there is NO way in Hell I’ll be voting Yes for  Amendment 8!    If parents want to send their kids to a private, religious school—great—but don’t expect my tax money to support your kid.     

  • Aaronlane

     What about their own tax money they are already paying? Should we give it back to them, or should they have to pay double?

  • Stev84

    I like the 60% supermajority. Usually it’s just a stupid 50%+1

  • pagansister

     If they don’t want to have a free education for their children, then that is their choice.  I’ve lived in many, many states and always found good public education for my children.  It is possible to do so.  I taught in a Catholic school for 10 years—and again, it was the choice of the parents to pay for an education.  They still had to pay for the free education too.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arthur-Bryne/100002441143047 Arthur Bryne

    For someone who doesn’t mind slinging in the mud, opponents could be asking supporters why they are trying to remove one of the barriers against state-run madrasah in Florida.

  • Mike

    Hi, I pay taxes so people with kids can get a free education even though I don’t have and don’t want kids. By your reasoning, I shouldn’t be giving money for education. By your reasoning, public education should be abolished, because all parents would be directly paying for the schooling of their own children. FYI I went to catholic school.

  • Former Broward County Resident

    Anyone who’s considering voting Yes on this needs to understand an important fact: If a private religious school accepts public money, they will probably also be on the hook for adherence to the state standards for annual testing (in FL, the FCAT). For many parents & kids, avoiding the FCAT is a big reason to choose private schools over public — not only for the reduced kid stress from unnecessary anxiety for 3/4 of the school year, but also for increased quality of curriculum. 
    For many private school teachers, not having to mess with the FCAT is a big reason they choose to work at private (secular or religious) schools instead of public. If Amendment 8 passes, private religion-sponsored schooling will no longer be about “paying for quality.” Once you’re saddled with adhering to FCAT standards, all notions of quality go out the window because the focus instantly becomes “teaching to the test.” 

    So, even the religious wingnuts should be opposing this amendment, if only to block the possibility of the state contaminating their private schools with public ed lunacy. 

  • Coyotenose

     While public school systems badly need reform, that is not what this is about. This is about Christian and Randist ideology. These people deliberately sabotage institutions so that they can point to them as failures and try to replace them with “free market” alternatives, that being code for “get people to pay for my pet ideology.” They simply do not care if something works if it doesn’t slot into their myths.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

     The thing is, parents DO need to be more involved.

  • http://markjaquith.com/ Mark Jaquith

    I’m completely in support of blocking the state from directly funding religious institutions. But the anti-school-choice talk by AU is a complete tangent and has nothing to do with state endorsement of religion. There are many ways that a voucher or refund program could be structured to avoid state endorsement of religion. And it shouldn’t at all be a surprise that public schools want to continue receiving money for students who don’t go to their school. Free money, man.

  • http://twitter.com/humanbeing2 elaine kilshaw

    First of all I would like to say what a great site this is.
    Why is there so little publicity about these tax exceptions for religious schools, yet if it concerns a Bank and Murdoch it seems to be more important to the media. Religion preaching good is no threat but teaching our young children that evolution is wrong and only religions are right is a dangerous precedent for the future.