Earlier this week we gave the full explanation about the Amendment 8 debate in Florida — what the change would and would not do.
We know that was a lot to absorb, so we’ve boiled it down to a Cliffs Notes version to sort out the details.
Amendment 8 is a question on the Florida ballot asking voters if they want to rewrite article I, section 3 of the Florida Constitution.
That portion is known as the “no aid” clause and prohibits public money funding church or sectarian group activity.
If approved, the language would change from:
“No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof 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.”
“No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief.”
Supporters say the change is needed because churches or religious groups which provide social services – prison ministry or disaster relief – could lose their state funding if challenged in court. They argue those services don’t promote a religion and shouldn’t violate the Florida Constitution.
2. What’s the history of Amendment 8?
The amendments first started popping up in the late 1800s, led by the efforts of former Speaker of the U.S. House James G. Blaine. Blaine proposed a federal constitutional amendment which was never adopted.
But Florida is one of 38 states which adopted constitutional language barring the use of public money to support churches or other religious sects.
The amendment was initially intended to prevent public funding of Catholic schools, but courts have since ruled the language is not anti-Catholic.
3. Why are schools so concerned about Amendment 8?
Schools worry the change would open the door to the state funding religious schools. They also worry about the return of Florida’s private school voucher program.
Vouchers allow parents and students to take money the state would have paid for their education at a public school and use it to pay private school tuition. The Florida Supreme Court ruled Florida’s Opportunity Scholarship Program unconstitutional in 2006.
The Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy estimates a voucher program would mean the loss of $3.7 billion to $6.5 billion in public school funding over a five-year period.
4. Would Amendment 8 make vouchers constitutional?
Not directly. The 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision did not decide whether the voucher program violated article I, section 3.
Instead, the court ruled that the voucher program violated the article IX requirement that the state run a uniform system of public schools. The court decided private schools are not uniform, and that the state legislature can only operate public schools.
In order for vouchers to be constitutional, voters would need to amend article IX. Or a court would need to overrule or reinterpret the earlier Florida Supreme Court decision.
5. So how should I vote?
That depends, of course.
A no vote means you want to maintain the state ban on religious organizations getting public money — possibly including church-provided social services.
A yes vote means you want to remove the ban — which could eventually, maybe allow taxpayer dollars to fund religious schools if voters amend the constitution again.