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separation of church and state’

Constitutional amendment doing away with separation of church and state back on the ballot…for now

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A measure doing away with a century-old prohibition on using state funds for religious purposes is back on the November 2012 ballot, for now, after Attorney General Pam Bondi rewrote the proposal using a Tallahassee judge’s guidance.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis last week tossed the proposed “Religious Freedom” constitutional amendment, placed on next year’s November ballot by lawmakers, saying it was misleading because it left the impression that it would “make it a lot harder for the state to deny funding or program benefits to a sectarian institution.”

Under a new election law signed by Gov. Rick Scott this spring, Bondi had 10 days to rewrite the ballot summary. She crafted the revised measure as Lewis suggested in his Dec. 13 ruling by deleting the phrase “consistent with the United States Constitution” and inserting “except as required by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Critics say the amendment makes it easier for the GOP-dominated legislature and executive branch to steer taxpayer money to religious entities, including schools. The amendment’s ballot summary would change Florida’s constitution to ensure that “no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding, or other support.” At least 60 percent of voters must approve the measure for it to pass.

The plaintiffs in the case, including religious leaders and the Florida teachers’ union, also tried but failed to get Lewis to strike down the law allowing the attorney general to revise the summary if a court strikes it down as misleading. Bondi’s rewrite Tuesday is the first time the new law giving her that ability has been used.

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