This November, Florida voters will be deciding if they want to gut the state’s Blaine amendment language so it can give money directly to churches. The main benefit would be to allow school vouchers. In the run up to the vote Jon East, writing on the pro-voucher website redefinED had to bring in the evil secular humanists to make a false argument in support for passage of Amendment 8.
A Blaine Amendment refers to Maine Republican Congressman James G. Blaine (1830-1893) who took on the idea, expressed by President Grant in 1875, to pass a constitutional amendment to prohibit the use of tax dollars to pay for any religious school. The idea was mainly anti-catholic since Catholics were the only religious sect at the time to have their own separate schools.
The amendment failed in Congress but like we’ve seen in recent history with anti-gay marriage laws, all but 11 states individually passed versions of the Blaine Amendment.
Florida’s Amendment 8 would strip the Blaine Amendment from its constitution and replace it with language like this:
“no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding or other support … and delet[es] 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.”
Should the amendment receive 60% approval, it would allow Florida to go full on with the public school busting private school vouchers – the religious conservative wet dream.
But Jon East, writing on the pro-voucher website redefinED had to deflect the benefit of the amendment on vouchers since the Blaine language has been pretty much set aside for school vouchers by recent US Supreme court rulings. Instead he had bring in secular humanists as a boogeyman to prove the state needs to be able to legally give tax money to churches.
In turn, the pro-Amendment 8 campaign is being led by a coalition of community-service providers and religious leaders who have raised less than $100,000 to date. They are honorable people who simply want to protect the broad assortment of services that is currently delivered without controversy by faith-based providers. Their position is understandable: If the secular humanists will sue over prison ministries, what’s to stop them from challenging government contracts with the Catholic Charities, Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services or the YMCA? Are Catholic hospitals safe? After all, the constitutional language at issue is quite explicit: “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.”
East references the case Council for Secular Humanism v. McNeil where the state was sued over spending tax dollars on prison religious services. That case is still in the system and hasn’t been decided but it is a completely different issue than what East refers to about Catholic charities and hospitals. He makes a similar mistake that religious conservatives make about government rules requiring insurance plans to have birth control coverage.
There has been a long history of religious sects and groups having their social service functions, if they have one that receives tax money, separate from their religious proselytizing function. The services that are paid for by tax dollars have to be religion neutral according to the tax codes.
If I need to get some free day-old bread from a food pantry run by the Acme Baptist Church and they receive money from the government to operate that food pantry, is it fair to force me to listen to a sermon or to have to attend a church service to get that bread?
There shouldn’t be a religious poll tax to receive social services. I don’t feel that churches should be providing those services because although the theistic and secular functions have to be separate it is too much of a temptation.
I hope Amendment 8 fails because the last thing we need is to give tax money directly to churches.