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House won't advance pro-church bill

An effort to repeal a century-old ban on public funding of religious organizations appears to be dead in the House.

House Majority Office staff director Todd Reid sent out this message Friday: "The House is unlikely to continue moving forward on HJR 1399 dealing with religious discrimination. The HJR was designed to eliminate the Blaine Amendment inserted into the constitution in a time of anti-Catholic sentiment. The joint resolution does nothing to eliminate the boundaries between church and state, nor to address school vouchers as the court ruled vouchers unconstitutional outside of this language. Just like the Alien Land Laws, the Blaine amendment is antiquated, discriminatory law that should be struck from the state’s constitution. "

The Senate's Education PreK-12 Committee approved the measure earlier this month. The 6-2 vote fell along party lines.

The bill has been pitched as the "religious freedom" bill by Republican leaders, but critics said it is a pro-church effort to abolish Florida's strict divisions between church and government.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida will join a handful of other groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates and the Florida Education Association, for a press conference to denounce the bills at 10 a.m. this morning. Told the bill was dead, ACLU spokesman Brandon Hensler said the groups were waiting for official notice that the legislation would not advance.

"We are moving forward," said Hensler.

UPDATE: At the press conference, Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, called Reid's e-mail "propaganda" designed to confuse bill critics.

"When you think something is dead in the House, that's when it's most alive," he said.