A proposed constitutional amendment that would rewrite the religious freedom section of the Florida Constitution is dangerous, Rabbi Merrill Shapiro says.
Shapiro, president of the Americans United Board of Trustees and rabbi at Temple Shalom in Deltona, wrote a guest column for Florida Voices warning about Amendment 8.
Although described as a “religious freedom” measure, the proposal would actually reduce religious liberty in the state, Shapiro said.
“Despite what some would have you believe, religious liberty in Florida (and in America) has broad constitutional protection,” wrote Shapiro. “We are a diverse nation of many faiths and philosophies, and Florida reflects those trends. The breadth and scope of religious liberty in this state is nothing short of remarkable, and it’s all thanks to the separation of church and state.
“Yet there are those who would wreck this beautiful experiment in freedom,” Shapiro added. “Some religious and political forces, motivated by a theory of politics that has all the subtlety of a steamroller, have placed Amendment 8 on the Florida ballot. And like a steamroller, this amendment, if passed, would flatten religious freedom in our state.”
Shapiro noted that Amendment 8’s proponents really want to secure taxpayer funding for religion.
“Under Amendment 8,” observed Shapiro, “religious groups would have not only the right to seek taxpayer funding but the power to demand it in certain cases. Religious schools and other ministries of any and all religions could tap the public purse – my tax dollars and yours – and use those funds to promote their faith.”
He added, “Don’t buy the line that Amendment 8 is about protecting ‘faith-based’ social services. Those programs are in no danger. Religious groups in Florida can get tax funds to provide services to those in need – so long as they don’t use public funds to preach or proselytize.”
Shapiro opined that Amendment 8’s supporters also want to gain a foothold for school vouchers in the state. Currently, two provisions of the Florida Constitution have been interpreted to ban voucher subsidies for religious schools. If Amendment 8 passes, one of them will be removed.
Said Shapiro, “Some politicians are trying to use ‘religious freedom,’ which most Floridians fully support, as a cover for their agenda. They’d like to force all of us to subsidize various religions, whether we believe in those faiths or not. They want to give religious institutions special privileges.”
The vote on Amendment 8 was pending as this issue of Church & State went to press.