Americans United Challenges Florida Ballot Amendments That Would Undercut Religious Liberty, Public Schools

Education And Civil Liberties Groups Assert That Tax Commission Overstepped Its Bounds In Attacking State Constitution

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has joined litigation in Florida designed to remove two ballot amendments that would erase religious freedom safeguards and harm public schools in the state.

The lawsuit filed today in Leon Circuit Court in Tallahassee aims to remove Amendments 7 and 9 from the November ballot. The amendments were put on the ballot by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, but Americans United and other civil liberties and education groups contend that the Commission lacks the authority to do so.

The amendments would permit voucher subsidies for religious and other private schools in Florida and eliminate the state constitution’s language barring tax aid to religion. The result would be that houses of worship and religious schools would receive massive new streams of public funding. The measures were engineered onto the ballot through backdoor political maneuvering by former Gov. Jeb Bush, an ardent advocate of taxpayer aid to churches and church schools.

“These dangerous proposals have no business being on the ballot,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “The Tax Commission exceeded its authority and placed deceptive amendments before the voters. The courts should not allow this to happen.

“Jeb Bush and his cronies are trying to pull a fast one,” Lynn continued, “and we cannot let him get away with it.”

Two of the plaintiffs in the Ford v. Browning case are Americans United activists: Rabbi Merrill Shapiro of Temple Beth Shalom in Palm Coast is vice president of Americans United and the Rev. Harry Parrott Jr. of Penney Farms is president of AU’s Clay County Chapter and serves on AU’s National Advisory Council.

The lawsuit asserts that the Commission exceeded its authority by approving both ballot amendments and that Amendment 9 is worded in a misleading manner.

Under the Florida Constitution, the Commission meets once every 20 years to discuss budget and tax issues and has the power to place amendments on the ballot dealing only with that narrow set of issues.

The lawsuit asserts that in approving the ballot initiatives, the Commission “exceeded its authority under Article XI, section 6, of the Florida Constitution by proposing constitutional amendments that do not deal with the subjects of ‘taxation or the state budgetary process.’”

In addition to Americans United, groups backing the lawsuit include the Florida Education Association, the Florida School Boards Association, the Florida Association of District School Superintendants, the Florida Association of School Administrators, the Florida ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League and People For the American Way.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.