POINT OF VIEW: Don’t allow state money to pay for religious schools

“We all have freedom of religion, and we have a right to send our children to private schools of our choice, religious or otherwise. But why should your freedom become my burden? Should the taxpayers of Florida be compelled to pay for your choice? Should the taxpayers be forced to send their money to a religious group preferred by someone else? Because that’s what this amendment, this proposal would do.”

These were the words of state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, at the Nov. 29 Declaration of Rights Committee meeting. At that meeting, the committee voted 6-1 to approve Proposal 4, a proposal to amend the state constitution that would eliminate the prohibition on using state funds to aid churches and other religious or sectarian organizations.

The provision, known as the “No Aid” provision, has been in the Florida Constitution since 1885 and has prohibited the state from giving taxpayer money to organizations that will use that money to promote religious or sectarian activities, particularly in the field of education.

The No Aid provision does not restrict religious organizations or prohibit any parent from sending their children to religious schools, rather, it prevents the state from forcing taxpayers to fund those religious organizations. This separation of church and state is a fundamental principle of American government, allowing each individual to make his or her own religious choices, but not forcing any person to fund the religious choices of others. Florida should not be in the business of taking taxpayer funds from a Hindu, Muslim, or nonreligious resident to fund the religious education of a Christian resident. The No Aid provision mandates this principle.

Joyner made the point clearly by turning it around: “There’s a reason separation of church and state has stood the test of time. Would the backers of this proposal be so enthusiastic of supporting religious schools if the majority of them were Islam, Hindu, … Buddhist? Would the same zeal to fund non-Christian schools still remain?”

The No Aid provision avoids this entanglement of religion and state by prohibiting the latter from funding any religion. The committee’s proposal to end this separation and open the doors to taxpayer funds going to promote religious and sectarian teachings is shameful. The No Aid provision has served this state well for over 130 years, and I hope Florida voters will recognize the committee’s error and reject Proposal 4 when it is on the ballot in the fall of 2018.


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