Proposed Amendments 7 & 9 Struck From The Ballot

We did it! Proposed Constitutional Amendments 7 & 9 were removed from the November ballot today, thanks in large part to the support we received from you. But don't rest just yet, as this will not be the end of the battle to protect separation of church & state and prevent the return of vouchers in Florida.

The ACLU was one of several religious liberty and public education organizations, including the Florida Education Association and others that filed the challenge arguing that the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission's (TBRC) actions were beyond the scope of its authority and an abuse of its power. In fact, the whole process of tax and budget reform was hijacked by lobbyists and staffers for former Governor Jeb Bush to use the process to resuscitate his crusade for private school vouchers.

The TBRC meets every 20 years and is supposed to propose solutions to Florida's taxation and budget process. The commission grossly overstepped its authority by adopting several proposals that would have eliminated Florida's strong commitment to separation of church & state and religious freedom language, and require government funding of religious programs. We at the ACLU are elated that the Florida Supreme Court saw through this thinly veiled attempt to bring back private/parochial school vouchers to the Sunshine State.

However, this is not the end of the battle to protect religious freedom, prevent public education from being privatized and keep unconstitutional vouchers out of Florida. "It would be naive to think that opponents of separation of church & state and public education will fold their tents and disappear. For some this is an ideological crusade, and the battle is very likely to be renewed at the next opportunity, which will be the next Legislative session," said Howard Simon, Executive Director, ACLU of Florida.

"But the removal of 7 and 9 from the November ballot enables us to turn our full and undivided attention to defeating proposed Constitutional Amendment 2, which would strip domestic partner health and other benefits from unmarried Floridians, both gay and straight alike," Simon added.

Proposed constitutional amendments 7 and 9 would have put government where it does not belong: using tax dollars to financially support religious institutions. It also would have diverted large amounts of funding away from much needed programs in our public schools leaving this already financially starved system in shambles. "You don't improve the neighborhood public schools that most Florida families will depend on by further impoverishing them," said Simon.

These proposed amendments, which we referred to as the "voucher package", took aim at the parts of the Florida Constitution that the courts relied on to strike down vouchers in Bush v. Holmes -- replacing our clearly defined church and state barrier with dangerously loose language that could have in fact mandated public funding of religious institutions.

"In 2009 we will be prepared for a more conservative Legislature that will be even more hostile to civil liberties," said Courtenay Strickland, Director of Public Policy, ACLU of Florida. "We will remain strong on the legislative, legal and public education fronts to ensure that Floridians are aware of the impact that these types of proposals will have on our fundamental civil liberties and rights."

The final Opinion will follow, and a copy of today's Florida Supreme Court Order can be viewed in PDF online here.

Thank you to all of our members and supporters for making this stunning victory possible. We will look for your help in the coming weeks as we prepare to do battle over proposed Constitutional Amendment #2.

This is a follow-up from a previously-posted article warning of the November Voting Threats.