Shapiro v. Browning

AU's Role: 
AU's Involvement Began: 
July 2011

The Florida Constitution prohibits the state from using taxpayer money to fund religious organizations or programs. During its 2011 session, the Florida legislature proposed an amendment to the Florida Constitution that not only would repeal this strict prohibition on public funding of religious institutions, but would also forbid Florida government bodies from denying public funding to religious institutions unless the U.S. Constitution prohibited the funding. The proposed amendment will become law if it is approved by Florida voters in the November 2012 general election. 

The proposed ballot language was misleading. It falsely implied that the proposed amendment would merely make the Florida Constitution coextensive with the U.S. Constitution and also that the amendment was required by the U.S. Constitution. And it failed to disclose that the proposed amendment would force the state to provide taxpayer funds to religious institutions even when no other law (including the U.S. Constitution) would require it.

On July 20, 2011, Americans United and several allied organizations filed a lawsuit in Florida state court arguing that the ballot language used to describe the proposed constitutional amendment was misleading. The plaintiffs included our Board President, Rabbi Merrill Shapiro; Reverand Harry Parrott, Jr., President of our Clay County Chapter; and Reverand Harold Brockus, President of our South Pinellas County Chapter. 

On December 13, 2011, the court granted partial summary judgment in our favor, ruling that language incorrectly suggested that the proposed amendment would merely make the Florida Constitution consistent with the U.S. Constitution or was otherwise required by the U.S. Constitution. On December 20, 2011, the Florida Attorney General submitted new ballot language that is consistent with the court’s ruling. The case has now concluded.

(Read more about the Florida ballot initiative and our continuing advocacy against it.)