The Religious Freedom Amendment, a proposed amendment 8, to the Florida constitution would change the wording of section 3 of the document to allow public funding of religious organizations. That is, tax dollars from all citizens of Florida would be available to fund religion.
Currently, section 3 states, “[t]here shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals, peace, or safety. 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.”
Amendment 8 would replace the last sentence with, “[n]o individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief.”
As you can imagine, several secular organizations have rightly stood up and cried foul. Humanists of the Treasure Coast has joined with the Secular Coalition for America to fight the effort, which, according to many, is primarily an effort to find a way to get public funds to religious (i.e. Christian) schools.
Those are the facts of the situation. Now here’s my take on it:
Two things become readily apparent. 1) religious schools have largely failed at getting creationist pseudoscience and nonsense introduced to the masses through public schools and they cannot afford to let all the public school kids simply come to them for free. 2) the religionists haven’t really thought this through.
If public funds in Florida can get used on religious schools, then the religious are in a position to expand their classes and, of course, teach what they want. The religious are very good at appealing to the masses and, as a parent, I can tell you that I’m constantly on the look out for a school where my child will be safe. Public schools are rough and the religious can very easily make their classrooms look appealing. Next step, teach that evolution is wrong and creation is right; that contraception is bad and abstinence actually works; that homosexuality is an affliction and “teh gey” can be prayed away. And so on.
But it’s clear that they haven’t thought this through. What happens when a madrasah is created for Muslims (LA governor Jindal learned this the hard wya -see below)? What happens when a Jewish, Muslim, or Wiccan school doesn’t get an equal share of funding? Then it becomes apparent that the State is favoring a particular cult of religion and not actually protecting religious freedom. And, even if these things do not come to pass, the amendment is unconstitutional and will doubtless end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Maybe what we need to hope for, as secular people, is that this *does* go that route. Because such a battle will shine a lot of light on the tax breaks that religion already gets. That elephant in the room, where churches get to exist in neighborhoods where they take advantage of street repair, public services like fire and ambulance, and other services will be exposed. Not to mention the public scrutiny on the lifestyles of the leaders of mega-churches that rake in millions (if not billions) of dollars annually, none of it to be shared with the public.
The religious have never been very good at understanding “religious liberty.” They should leave it in the hands of experts. Secularists.