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Proposal would allow gov't spending on parochial schools

A proposed amendment to Florida's constitution unveiled today would allow the state to spend public funds on churches and other sectarian institutions. The proposal would open the door for the state to issue vouchers for students to attend parochial schools.

The measure -- which if approved by the Legislature would go before voters -- is sponsored by Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, and Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando.

The proposed amendment would read: "Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to provide that an individual or entity may not be barred from participating in any public program because of religion and to delete the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."

Read the press release from the lawmakers below:

Rep. Steve Precourt (R-Orlando) today introduced House Joint Resolution (HJR) 1399, also known as the Religious Freedom Act, an amendment to Florida’s constitution repealing discriminatory Blaine Amendments which bar access to public aid and limit religious freedom.  The proposed constitutional amendment, also sponsored by Senator Thad Altman (R-Melbourne) Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 2550, repeals a limit on the power of the state to spend funds directly or indirectly in aid of sectarian institutions.

“Blaine Amendments are antiquated constitutional tenants rooted in bigotry that go far beyond the separation of church and state envisioned by our founding fathers,” said Representative Precourt.  “If we don't take action now, millions of dollars in quality state programs- from Bright Futures to Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten - will be jeopardized."

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in Mitchell v. Helms that Blaine Amendments have “a shameful pedigree that we do not hesitate to disavow” and represent a “doctrine, born of bigotry, [that] should be buried now.”

Though this proposed amendment will remove a limit on the power of the state to spend funds, the state will continue to be limited by the Establishment Clauses of the Florida and U.S. Constitutions.  Under the Establishment Clauses, government aid may not result in governmental indoctrination, define its recipients by reference to religion, or create an excessive entanglement.

“People in private organizations should not be disenfranchised from working with the public sector on some of society’s most difficult problems,” said Senator Altman.  “This constitutional amendment restores the way America was envisioned to work,” concluded Altman.