On June 13, 2008, Americans United joined a number of other civil-liberties and education groups in challenging two proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution, which were set to appear on the November 2008 statewide ballot. The proposed amendments would have: (1) permitted voucher subsidies for religious and other private schools in Florida, and (2) eliminated the Florida Constitution’s language barring tax aid to religion. If approved by the electorate, the amendments would have enabled religious schools to receive massive new streams of public funding.
The lawsuit, filed in state court, argued that Florida’s Taxation and Budget Reform Commission improperly placed the proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. Under the Florida Constitution, the Commission is authorized to meet once every twenty years to discuss budgetary and tax issues and has the power to place amendments on the ballot only if they pertain to “taxation or the state budgetary process.” The lawsuit alleged that the proposed voucher amendments did not fall within the Commission’s narrow authority. The lawsuit also contended that the language of one of the proposed amendments was misleading as to its true effect.
Rabbi Merrill Shapiro of Temple Beth Shalom in Palm Coast (then-vice-president of Americans United), and the Rev. Harry Parrott Jr. of Penney Farms (president of AU’s Clay County Chapter and a member of AU’s National Advisory Council), were plaintiffs in the case.
We requested that the trial court enter a temporary injunction barring the Florida Secretary of State from placing the proposed amendments on the ballot. On August 4, 2008, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Commission. Then, the intermediate appellate court granted our request to appeal directly to the state’s highest court: the Florida Supreme Court.
On September 3, 2008, the Florida Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s ruling, thus preventing the proposed amendments from being placed on the ballot. The Florida Supreme Court agreed with Plaintiffs that the Commission lacked the authority to propose the amendments.