Don’t Change Constitution, AU Tells Fla. Officials

Americans United last month urged Florida officials to reject efforts to weaken the state constitution’s religious liberty protections.

The Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission is considering two proposed constitutional amendments. Critics say one provision is especially problematic because it would allow private school vouchers and government funding for faith-based social service providers. The measure would effectively undue the state’s complete ban on giving taxpayer dollars to religious organizations. It also fails to protect against religious discrimination or proselytization.

Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, Vice President of the AU Board of Trustees and rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom in Palm Beach, wrote a letter on behalf of AU and its Florida members.

In his letter to Commission Chairman Allan Bense, Shapiro argued that repealing the Florida constitutional ban on public financing of religious institutions would put the state “in the business of religion.”

“When awarding funding, the state government would be forced to pick and choose among different faiths, thus endorsing the particular beliefs of the recipient religious organizations over others,” said Shapiro, who is past president of the Greater Orlando Board of Rabbis and the Winter Park Council of Churches and Synagogues.

The proposed amendments are direct responses to the Florida Supreme Court’s 2006 decision striking down then-Gov. Jeb Bush’s voucher scheme.