News Section: State Government
Rep. Scott Randolph Applauds Legal Challenge of HJR 1471
TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Education Association, the largest teachers' union in Florida, joined the American Civil Liberties Union and several rabbis and ministers seeking to halt a 2012 ballot measure they say falsely pushes to allow school vouchers in the name of religious freedom. The groups filed a lawsuit against the secretary of state Wednesday to prevent the measure.
Florida Republicans have put a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot they call the Religious Freedom Act. Proponents of the act consider it a way to contest religious injustice. However, challengers point out that the law would go against separation of church and state -- a concept first presented in the U.S. by founding-father Thomas Jefferson. They feel that passing the law would pave the way for non-taxpaying religious organizations to dip into public funds to finance their activities.
Rep. Scott Randolph (D-Orlando) applauded the lawsuit stating, “Throughout the 2011 legislative session, Republican legislators disguised the proposed constitutional amendment as one that would merely protect religious freedom and end religious discrimination. But in actuality, this proposal has one purpose: to allow the unlimited use of taxpayers’ money to send children to private schools instead of building a quality public school system.”
The act would delete from the Florida Constitution the clause that forbids the government from giving money directly or indirectly to religious institutions.
“Unfortunately, the proponents of this legislation have shrouded their support for vouchers under a bogus argument of religious protection. Such tactics are shameful, and I only hope the court sees through their charade and strikes from the ballot this defenseless attempt to trick voters,” said Randolph.
However, many residents feel they could benefit from the proposed amendment. Private, faith-based organizations can often provide valuable services for less money than the public sector, therefore lowering government costs for taxpayers. However, current constitutional language prohibits the state from tapping into these potential resources, according to a Florida Senate release.
“Florida’s Constitution should not require discrimination against religious institutions simply because we (or “they”) are religious. Floridians deserve the opportunity to benefit from programs with a secular purpose run by religious entities. Hospitals caring for Medicaid beneficiaries, schools educating children from failing schools with vouchers that save the state money and may offer a better education, and other service providers that comply with all the established requirements should be allowed to serve,” said Archbishop Thomas Wensk.
Many Florida bishops praised the local senate for passing the bill that would protect religious organizations who claim they are unfairly being denied government funding on the basis of faith discrimination. The bill was approved by state senators on May 6, 2011.
Merab is a writer at the Bradenton Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.