A proposed constitutional amendment in Florida that would have allowed taxpayer funds to go toward religious institutions, including schools, was struck down by a judge Wednesday. Amendment 7, titled “Religious Freedom,” was slated for the November 2012 ballot. It was crafted by legislators last spring to counteract a provision of the Constitution known as the Blaine Amendment, which says taxpayer dollars cannot be spent “in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”
The proposed “Religious Freedom” amendment states:
Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to provide, consistent with the United States Constitution, that no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding, or other support and to delete the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.
Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis called the ballot summary ambiguous and misleading. Siding with the plaintiffs, he wrote, “The phrase ‘consistent with the United States Constitution’ is misleading because it inaccurately implies that the effect of the Amendment is to conform the Florida Constitution to the United States Constitution.”
The legal challenge was filed by more than a half-dozen individuals, including religious leaders, and the Florida Education Association. FEA President Andy Ford said in a written statement, “Amendment 7 would have required taxpayers to fund a broad array of religious programs and institutions. The judge agreed that taxpayers and voters need to be told the truth and that the purpose and effect of the amendment was not clear in the ballot summary and was misleading to voters.” Ford said Amendment 7 had the potential to open up school vouchers to all students.
Amendment 7 could make a comeback, however. Judge Lewis, in his 12-page ruling, gave Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi the authority to rewrite the ballot language and resubmit it to the court for review. Ford said the FEA will “decide later whether to challenge that ruling in an appellate court.” If the amendment is placed back on the ballot, it will need at least 60 percent voter approval for passage.