Saturday, May 14, 2011

Florida Showdown

by Edd Doerr

Education Week published the following letter in its May 11 edition:

"Voters Would Derail States' Voucher Plans"

"The four states discussed in the article 'GOP Lawmakers Press Voucher Expansion in States' (4/27/11) are among the 39 states whose constitutions prohibit tax aid to religious institutions, but, tellingly, are not among the 14 states (including DC) where voters decisively rejected vouchers or their variants by landslide margins in over two dozen statewide referendums.

"If voters in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, and Pennsylvania were alllowed to vote on these voucher plans, they would surely knock them down. We can assume that GOP legislators and governors understand this and are reluctant to follow the honorable course and propose state constititional amendments that would allow voters a voice on these radical attacks on their public schools and their fundamental rights.

"Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty, Silver Spring, Md"

OOPS! CORRECTION. Associated Press headline, May 13: "Fla. Senate approves repeal of religious aid ban". On a party line roll call vote the Florida Senate has voted 26 -10 to put an amendment on the ballot in November 2012 to remove the aid ban. The amendment had earlier passed the House 81-35. Republicans favor the ban removal; Democrats oppose. This sets the stage for the first referendum on this matter since conservative Utah defeated school vouchers in 2007 by 62% to 38%. (All of the state referendum results are posted on ARL's web site,

Article I, Section 3 of the Florida constitution states: "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." This plainly protects citizens from being forced by government through taxation to contribute involuntarily to any religious institution.

Senate Democratic leader Nan Rich said that "This measure would write into the Florida Constitution the unfettered right of individuals to direct state dollars to religious extremists that espouse ... virulently anti-Semitic, racist and other extremist views."

We can expect religious right and other conservative powerhouses to flood resources into Florida to pass this toxic brew in Novenber 2012, when Obama will be on the ballot for reelection. Americans have defeated these attacks on church-state separation, religious liberty and public education repeatedly over the past 40 years or so and we can do so again, but it will require unstinting effort. Stay tuned.

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