MIAMI (CBSMiami) — All week CBS4 has been taking a closer look at the 11 constitutional amendments on your November ballot. The questions include major changes to property taxes, abortion rights, and the separation of church and state. This article focuses on Amendment 8.
The title of Amendment 8, Religious Freedom, may be a bit deceiving to voters. It really means allowing tax dollars to go to religious institutions under the constitution.
“It simply allows these religious organizations to bid on projects that are being put out there for secular organizations.” Attorney Juan Bauta explained to CBS4’s David Sutta.
Bauta is a supporter of the yeson8.org campaign. He says the amendment is about protecting programs like Virtual Pre-Kindergarten (VPK). Often the program is run by churches and temples. The State of Florida pays these institutions to offer the program. “The state is actually violating the constitution by giving them money,” Bauta said.
Amendment 8 would remove a law created in 1885 that bans tax dollars from going to religious programs. Supporters believe it would help the state fill voids in services. Bauta explained, “Often times it’s religious organizations that are able to the job more efficiently than secular organizations.”
Not everyone agrees on 8 though.
“If the separation of church and state means anything in this country this amendment rips the heart of soul out of it,” American Civil Liberties Union of Florida legal director Randall Marshall said. The ACLU is one of many adamantly against 8 saying social services are not in danger under the constitution.
“It doesn’t matter who’s providing those services as long as they are done fairly, equally, and without regard to religious test,” Marshall said. The ACLU suspects Amendment 8 is about school vouchers. “This is an attempt to make another run at allowing school vouchers to go to religious based institutions to further religious education.”
School vouchers were ruled unconstitutional years ago by the Florida Supreme Court. In simple terms it allowed parents to obtain a school voucher to attend the school of their choice including private religious schools. “That’s a total red herring.” Bauta countered. “The realities are that the school vouchers were decided on a completely different section of the Florida constitution, Period.” he said.
So the decision comes down to who you believe. One side saying the amendment brings more help and needed services. The other calls Amendment 8 Pandora’s box.
“This is a opening up the taxpayers wallet for religious purposes in Florida,” Marshall said. Changing a law more than 100 years old makes Amendment 8 probably one of the most controversial amendments.
It needs 60-percent of the vote to pass.