George Williams: Amendment 8 is not about religious freedoms

From Tallahassee.com

As
the pastor of a church and a public school employee, I want to warn Florida
voters about a constitutional amendment that threatens both freedom of religion
and public education.
Amendment 8, on our ballot for the Nov. 6 election,
carries the title “Religious Freedom” — but that wording is designed to fool
voters into approving a dangerous change to the Florida Constitution.
Amendment
8 is only the latest in a long series of efforts to create a voucher program
that would use taxpayers’ money to pay for tuition to private schools. This
would shift taxpayers’ money away from public schools, causing even more damage
to schools suffering from years of insufficient funding.
This
amendment — placed on the ballot by the Legislature, not at the initiative of
citizens — is not about religious freedom at all, but about allowing state
government to use public funds at any private religious organization it
chooses.
Here’s
the background: For more than 125 years, the Florida Constitution has included
language that guarantees the separation of church and state in Florida. It
prohibits state government from giving tax money to religious groups for
religious purposes. The amendment not only removes that prohibition, but also
replaces it with language that requires the state to fund religious programs if
it funds similar secular programs — something the U.S. Constitution doesn’t
require.
In an
attempt to smooth the way toward a voucher program that could be ruled legal
under the state constitution, the Legislature placed Amendment 8 on the ballot.
Other
than setting the stage for vouchers, there’s no practical reason for such a
radical change to our constitution. Nothing in the constitution discriminates
against religion or prevents faith-based organizations from providing
tax-funded services as long as the services are nonreligious and serve the
needs of the entire community, without religious indoctrination.
In
fact, faith-based groups provide many such services today, such as drug
treatment, job training for the poor and mental health services. They are
merely required to play by the same rules as everyone else, serving people
without regard to their religious beliefs and opening their hiring processes to
all people, regardless of religion.
But
with Amendment 8, tax dollars could be given to any group or sect that calls
itself a religion. Those groups could use your tax money to advance their
particular beliefs, forcing taxpayers to fund religious views they oppose.
This
constitutional revision erodes the separation of church and state — a
fundamental principle that Americans of all religions, political parties, and
ideological convictions have supported since the nation’s founding.
For
these reasons, statewide organizations such as the Florida PTA and the League
of Women Voters of Florida oppose Amendment 8. They stand with tens of
thousands of Floridians who have expressed their opposition to Amendment 8 on
the Vote No on 8 Facebook page.
Join
us in opposing Amendment 8. Don’t be fooled by the misleading “Religious
Freedom” title on the amendment. Vote against it to preserve separation of
church and state and to block your tax money from funding private school
vouchers.

George Williams is pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Perry, an employee
of the Madison County School District and chair of the Vote No on 8 Committee.



http://www.tallahassee.com/article/20120928/OPINION05/309280015

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