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Noah Fitzgerel Headshot

Florida Amendment 8: Infusing Religion With Government

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Last summer, Amendment 2 passed with flying colors in Missouri, effectively reneging on the constitutional promise of maintaining the separation of religion and public school in that state. To this extent, it is important that Floridians remind the nation next week that the parameters set by scores of judicial interpretations and pieces of federal legislation regarding the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment are not only viable, but best for this nation's future.

Amendment 8 will be presented to Floridians in the voting booth due to the efforts of Attorney General Pam Bondi, who, after seeing an earlier version struck down by a county judge, proposed this new one. The measure blatantly slights the Constitution's First Amendment by redacting an important portion of the Blaine Amendment. As of present, Florida's Blaine Amendment serves as a state-level supplement to the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause.

It reads:

"There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals, peace or safety. No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."

If passed, Amendment 8 will rid Florida's state constitution of the last sentence of the Blaine Amendment, and add, "No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity."

This certainly sounds as if passing Amendment 8 is in the best interest of Florida's state affairs, especially when considering that Floridians will read the following language in their ballots next week regarding Amendment 8: "Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution providing that no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding, or other support, except as required by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and deleting the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."

Without understanding the implications of this amendment, I could easily be accused of hypocrisy. However, in the context of the safeguards constructed in the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, it would be questionable to claim that Amendment 8 is designed to protect religious freedom, as its official title (the "Florida Religious Freedom Amendment") seems to propose.

In fact, the language that will appear in the ballot is contradictory, as the notion of endorsing a religious organization by means of taxpayer dollars is an explicit violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

What is the end to this measure, then?

Well, as many reputable newspapers like the Miami Herald and non-profit organizations such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union can tell you, it will serve as a vehicle to galvanize a religious-school voucher program in the state.

Not only will this measure affect Florida school voucher litigation, but if broadly interpreted, I believe that it could radically change the lives of public school students.

Who is to say that in the ideal world of the proponents of this measure that this will not be expanded to religious organizations seeking to impress a message onto the minds of public school students?

I fear that students will one day walk into the classroom having received flyers containing proselytizing messages of faith with the approval of the school principal, who has been convinced that to do otherwise would be "discriminatory on the basis of religious identity." The very language to be added to Florida's state constitution reads as such, does it not?

This country has already seen the pernicious effects of measures such as this. As a high school student, I am greatly concerned for future generations of Floridians living in a state that might be governed by a measure that deprecates one of the most important tenets of this nation. For their sake, this measure must be revoked by voters next week.