Voters to get chance to lift religious banby John Kennedy | May 6th, 2011
A proposed constitutional amendment that would make it clear that state money can go to religious institutions was approved Friday by the Senate, putting the measure on the ballot next year.
The state constitution has a so-called “Blaine Amendment,” which prohibits tax dollars from directly or indirectly going to sectarian purposes. It’s been used to challenge faith-based programs that get government grants.
Backers say if government grant money could clearly go to sectarian institutions, it wouldn’t be used directly for religious purposes. But the provision, if approved by voters, could make it clear that state money can go to private religious schools, such as in a voucher, though the state’s main voucher program was found unconstitutional on other grounds.
Still, some vouchers, such as those used by disabled children, remain authorized, though backers of the bill have said they fear those scholarships could be threatened by the constitutional “Blaine Amendment.”
Removing the provision, however, would also make it clear that Medicaid money going to church-affiliated health care providers is OK, halfway houses that are run by ministries or other organizations are legal, or that churchs could get state money for an after-school sports league.
Opponents had worried that because the state can’t discriminate against religions, it also would make for the possibility of taxpayer dollars going for some possibly unpopular religious organizations.
Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Clearwater, noted that if it passes, state money could go to the Church of Scientology. Others have noted that it could go to the Koran-burning church in Gainesville, or it might allow for a voucher to be used by a student to attend a conservative Islamic religious school, meaning taxpayers would be paying for Islamic fundamentalist education.
“We may be very sorry we have voted for this amendment,” Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach said Friday. “This has great dangerous potential for all of us…be very careful about your vote.” The bill’s sponsors have said any religious discrimination is bad, no matter the religion.
The bill passed the Senate 26-10.
– News Service of Florida