Florida Groups Rally To Block Pro-Voucher Constitutional Amendment

A coalition of religious and public policy groups has unveiled a new Web-based campaign to defeat a proposed amendment that would weaken church-state separation in the Florida Constitution.

The Vote NO on 8 Committee has launched a new website, votenoon8. com, a Facebook page and a radio spot designed to educate state residents about the dangers of altering the church-state provisions of the constitution.

Advocates of school vouchers and other forms of taxpayer aid to religion are trying to persuade Floridians to approve Amendment 8, which would water down the current strong religious liberty language found in Flori­da’s governing charter.

The Vote NO on 8 Committee seeks to stop them.

“Amendment 8 is called ‘Religious Freedom,’ but it will actually have the opposite effect,” said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “This amendment could force taxpayers to fund religious views they may oppose.”

Eileen Segal, president of the Florida PTA added, “Amendment 8 is not about freedom of religion. The true intent is to de-fund our public schools.”

Americans United is working with the committee to educate voters about Amendment 8. Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, president of AU’s Board of Trustees and a Florida resident, is leading the efforts there.

“Amendment 8,” Shapiro observed, “is an overreaction that strips Florida’s Constitution of important safeguards currently in place.”

AU is assisting with efforts to recruit clergy into the fight against Amendment 8 and mobilizing its statewide chapter network to hold educational events.

AU’s Sarasota/Manatee Chapter held an educational forum on Sept. 22 titled “Don’t Take the Bait on 8.” Speakers included the Rev. Steven Baines, AU’s assistant field director for religious outreach, the Rev. Dr. Charles McKenzie, Florida coordinator for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Naples AU Chapter this month hosted a forum with the Council of Progressive Religious Voices (CPRV) and the Collier County ACLU. Speakers included Simon and the Rev. Ron Patterson, a United Church of Christ pastor and CPRV chair.

AU Legislative Director Maggie Garrett in September traveled to Florida for several events. She spoke at the University of Miami Law School and participated in a panel at a rally sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women in Deerfield Beach.