I’ll continue with the “Myth” series next week because I want to call attention to what’s going on in the Sunshine State. The Florida legislature introduced Amendment 7 which aims at doing away with a century-old prohibition on using state funds for religious purposes. The measure will be on the November 2012 ballot.
The proposed amendment would change a religious freedom clause of the state constitution by removing a provision in place since 1885, dubbed the Blaine amendment, which prohibits tax dollars from directly or indirectly going to religious organizations. Florida is among more than 35 states with Blaine amendments, named for a 19th Century Maine congressman who proposed a U.S. constitutional amendment prohibiting states from funding religious education. After Blaine’s proposal failed to become part of the U.S. Constitution, many states passed their own amendments barring state funding of religious organizations, including religious schools.
Section 6 of Florida’s 1885 Declaration of Rights states “No preference shall be given by law to any church, sect or mode of worship, and no money 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.”
From their writings we know that the authors of this document were God-fearing Christians. When the president of the 1885 Constitutional Convention Samuel Pasco and fellow legislatures introduced Section 6 they intended to protect the state’s religions from government interference. They included Section 6 because they were closer in time to, and more aware of, the problems that took place in 16th and 17th Europe and other parts of the world when government and religion were intertwined. They were convinced that religion and government made for a noxious mix.
It’s critical that Amendment 7 does not pass because it will set a dangerous precedent to other states with Blaine Amendments. Also, this amendment is not about religious freedom; it’s about forcing all Florida taxpayers to subsidize houses of worship, religious schools and other ministries whether they want to or not.
This situation calls attention to the importance of the work of church/state separation advocates. In 1885, Florida along with many other states recognized the importance of maintaining a line between the religious and secular. Over time, unfortunately, that wisdom can be diluted and lost. We witness that today with the Republican line-up of presidential hopefuls. Almost all argue, to varying degrees, that the wall of separation between church and state is too strict and religion should play a more prominent role in government. What they ignore is the corollary: that government will end up playing a stronger role in religion as well. And by the way, we know they don’t intend all religions to play a larger role in government – only the majority religion.
I call attention to the Florida case as an excellent example of how reason and prudence can be lost over time. And it makes clear the importance of the work done by Americans United in maintaining our time honored and constitutional tradition of maintaining a healthy separation between church and state. The concept of church/state separation does not renew automatically with each generation. It is up to us to insure that this precious wisdom is passed on to successive generations.
Read more: Florida Judge Says Ballot Initiative On Religion Is Misleading And Must Be Rewritten http://au.org/media/press-releases/florida-judge-says-ballot-initiative-on-religion-is-misleading-and-must-be