When it comes to trying to fool voters at election time, few can compete with the backers of Amendment 8, which Floridians will see on their ballots on Nov. 6.
Amendment 8 is a proposal to change the Florida Constitution. The Florida Legislature, which placed it on the ballot, labeled it "Religious Freedom" in a transparent attempt to fool Floridians into approving a radical change to our constitution. But it really has nothing to do with religious freedom at all.
Supporters should just say what it really does: allow state government to use public funds at any private religious organization it chooses.
That's a huge change for Florida. For more than 125 years, the state constitution has contained provisions guaranteeing the separation of church and state, a bedrock principle of the nation since America was founded. Those provisions have been used by courts to block creation of a private school voucher program that would siphon money from public education and send it to private and religious schools for tuition.
But now the supporters of Amendment 8 want to change the constitution in a way that would smooth the way toward creation of a voucher program.
The Florida PTA believes that would be a disaster for public schools in Florida. A recent study found that the creation of a universal private-school voucher program made possible by Amendment 8 could cost up to $6.5 billion over five years, depending on the details of the program. Our public schools cannot tolerate the loss of these funds after years of budget cuts.
Advocates for Amendment 8 attempt to justify it by claiming that it helps protect social service programs run by faith-based organizations. But in fact, those services are not threatened. Under the current constitution and court rulings, faith-based organizations can and do contract with the state to provide services such as drug treatment and job training. They only have to abide by the same rules as every other organization, and serve people without regard to their religious beliefs and without indoctrination.
But with Amendment 8, those protections are torn down. Tax dollars could be given to any group or sect that calls itself a religion, and those groups could use the money to advance their own beliefs, forcing Floridians to fund religious views they oppose. And the amendment contains no language providing oversight or accountability for these uses of taxpayer dollars.
Because of the damage done by Amendment 8 to the separation of church and state and the potential harm to public schools, the Florida PTA has joined a list of statewide organizations opposing it. We warn Floridians to not be fooled by the misleading ballot title and vote no on 8 to protect public education and the separation of church and state.