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House passes measure to do away with ban on public money for religious groups

A long-standing ban on public funding of religious organizations could be repealed under a measure approved Wednesday afternoon in the Florida House.

Supporters say the language, known as the Blaine Amendment, in the state constitution discriminates against religious groups such as soup kitchens and other charities.

Critics say doing away with the provision could open the door to public dollars going to religious institutions, particularly as parochial-school vouchers. The Florida Supreme Court threw out part of a voucher plan proposed by former Gov. Jeb Bush with a ruling based partly on the Blaine language.

The proposal, HJR 1471, was approved on an 81-35 party-line vote.Republicans called it a step forward for "religious freedom."

In addition to deleting the amendment, Democrats took issue with adding language to the state constitution saying that the government cannot deny "the benefits of any program, funding, or other support on the basis of religious identity or belief" to any person or group.

The measure would have to be approved by two-thirds of Florida voters at the ballot box.

A similar legislative effort stalled last year. Its Senate companion this year, SJR 1218, cleared one committee. Now the House will send its version to the Senate.