The Florida constitution includes a “Blaine Amendment.” Rooted in anti-Catholic bigotry and nativism, Blaine Amendments require discrimination against religion, particularly in the context of education funding. Alarmed by some recent court decisions, the Florida legislature voted earlier this year to ask the voters to repeal the Blaine Amendment and replace it with language providing greater protection for religious liberty. The proposal is set to appear on the November 2012 ballot.
Strict separationist organizations like the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State oppose the amendment, because they oppose equal participation of faith-based organizations in social service and education funding programs. The public education establishment also opposes the amendment, as its passage would remove an arguable obstacle to the creation of school choice programs in Florida, thereby enhancing competition.
These organizations are urging Floridians to reject the proposal. But they’ve gone farther than that: they want to deprive Florida’s citizens of the right to vote on the proposal. Plaintiffs represented by the ACLU, AUSCS, the Anti-Defamation League, and the National Education Association have asked a court to remove the proposal from the ballot, arguing (rather creatively) that the ballot title and summary are “misleading.”
There is a reasonable concern that some Florida courts might interpret the existing Blaine Amendment to require the exclusion of religious student groups from student activity fee funding and other benefits, or to require the exclusion of students at religious colleges and universities from tuition assistance programs. The proposed amendment would make it abundantly clear that such discrimination is neither required nor permitted.
Florida’s voters should have the chance to voice their views on this important issue.
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