Three Proposed Constitutional Amendments Threaten Floridians In November

Three proposed constitutional amendments threaten Floridians in November. The ACLU of Florida is working to defeat these proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution that will be devastating to millions of Floridians if passed. Two of the proposed amendments (7 & 9) aim to shred the church/state line in Florida while simultaneously re-instating the unconstitutional school voucher program, and proposed amendment 2 attacks the rights of straight and gay domestic partners.

Domestic Partner Benefits Threatened

Proposed Constitutional Amendment 2 will appear on the ballot labeled the "Florida Marriage Protection Amendment," but rest assured that it will harm, not protect Floridians. It is frequently referred to by proponents as the "gay marriage ban," but same-sex marriage is already banned in Florida under both federal and state law.

The language of the proposed amendment reveals the true intent of the amendment's drafters:

"Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized."

The inclusion of the language "or the substantial equivalent thereof" exposes the real purpose: to create legal ammunition to challenge any recognition of the rights of domestic partners, including same-sex partners.

If approved by the voters, the main impact of the proposed amendment will not be on marriage, but in areas such as hospital visitation, medical decision-making, domestic partner health benefits and other employer-provided benefits. Many of these types of medical decisions are dealt with in the later years of life and this amendment will greatly affect seniors, as well as most unmarried couples in domestic partnerships.

The War Against Separation of Church & State

The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission (TBRC), a body that meets only every 20 years, is charged with considering laws that will affect our state's taxation, budget and government services. The commission has the power to place constitutional amendments directly on the ballot -- without legislative or voter approval. Largely comprised of lobbyists and then-Governor Jeb Bush's current and former staff members, Commission members set out to reinstate the voucher program that was struck down as unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court.

No Aid To Religion

Proposed amendment 7 will appear on the ballot labeled "Religious Freedom," but religious discrimination, not religious freedom, will be the effect. If voters are fooled into approving this measure, the 140-year-old provision barring the use of tax dollars for religious programs would be deleted from the Florida Constitution.

Florida's "no aid to religion" provision -- and similar provisions that appear in the constitutions of approximately 36 other states -- is a more explicit requirement of separation of church and state than that contained in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The proposal will replace the "no aid provision" with the following sentence: "An individual or entity may not be barred from participating in any public program because of religion." This deceitfully crafted language (note the words "or entity") will effectively mandate the use of tax dollars for religious programs that engage in religious discrimination and proselytize to those whom they hire and serve.

Jeb's Revenge: Vouchers Make Stealth Appearance on the Ballot

TBRC members are insulting the intelligence of voters by not even mentioning the word "vouchers" in proposed amendment 9. The proposal's language undermines the public education system by authorizing private/parochial school vouchers, which were ruled unconstitutional in Bush v. Holmes by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 -- a ruling the ACLU helped to secure.

The proposal, which will appear on the ballot under the label "Requiring 65 Percent of School Funding For Classroom Instruction; State's Duty For Children's Education," uses the 65% funding measure as the sugar to make the voucher poison go down easier. The measure essentially says that, though it is the paramount duty of the state to make provision for the education of all children, this duty shall be fulfilled "at a minimum and not exclusively" through provision for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools.

The amended language authorizes the Florida Legislature to create two parallel education systems: a public school system operating under state standards, and a system of unaccountable private and parochial schools supported by publicly funded vouchers that operate without a state-approved curriculum, without certified teachers and without standardized student performance testing -- precisely what the Florida Supreme Court struck down in 2006.

Proposed Amendments 7 & 9 Are Linked

An understanding of how proposed amendments 7 and 9 conspire is required to understand how radical their effect will be. The main intent of proposed amendment 9 is to amend the portion of the constitution that was used by the Supreme Court to strike down the voucher program (namely, the requirement that the state maintain a system of uniform public schools). The main intent of proposed amendment 7 is to preemptively strip the "no aid to religion" provision from the Florida Constitution since that provision might be used in the future to strike down a voucher program even if the state no longer has a constitutional charge to maintain a uniform system of public schools. But if proposed amendment 7 passes, it will go well beyond merely re-authorizing vouchers -- it will essentially mandate government-funded religious programs.

Government-Funded Religious Programs

The proposal Floridians will vote on this November is a radical departure from the contractual relationship between government and religiously affiliated charities that have served the needy for decades. Religiously affiliated charitable organizations such as Catholic adoption agencies, Lutheran Social Services, Jewish Vocational Services and many others, have served the needs of our communities without proselytizing, without discriminating in whom they hire and serve, and do not have as their primary purpose or effect the advancement of religion.

The argument to repeal the traditional "no aid to religion" provision by the TBRC was based on the lie that the "no aid to religion" requirement threatens to shut down numerous religiously affiliated charitable institutions ranging from schools to hospitals. But government contracts to provide services to the needy are not threatened by a requirement that government funds not be used to support religious programs.

Proponents of proposed amendment 7 use the scare tactic that religiously affiliated charities are threatened by the 140-year-old constitutional requirement that tax dollars not be spent to support churches and religious programs. Proponents of this proposal want government funds to support programs that require participation in religious activities, and allow them to restrict services and hiring on religious (and possibly other) grounds.

Talk to friends and family members. Help protect basic American values and prevent voters from being conned in November.

UPDATE: As of September 3, 2008, the Florida Supreme Court has struck proposed amendments 7 & 9 from the ballot. Read more about the decision HERE.