Fla. Group Working to Pass Amendment Allowing Funding for Religious Programs

Come November, voters in Florida will not only decide who goes to the White House, but also how church and state issues will operate in the Sunshine State.

Amendment 8, which will be on the ballot, seeks to overturn the state's Blaine Amendment, a measure from the nineteenth century that bans state funding of religious programs.

"Except to the extent required by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, neither the government nor any agent of the government may deny to any individual or entity the benefits of any program, funding, or other support on the basis of religious identity or belief," reads the Amendment 8 language in part.

Jim Frankowiak, campaign manager and spokesman for the pro-Amendment "Say Yes On 8" group, told The Christian Post that several state-level legislators and faith-based groups see this as necessary.

"Floridians deserve the opportunity to benefit from programs with a secular purpose run by religious entities," said Frankowiak. "Several legislators saw the need for it on the basis of pending and recent litigation at the State Supreme Court level coupled with their recognition of the need for continuation of the social service programs currently provided by faith-based organizations in the state."

Frankowiak told CP that he believed Amendment 8 was likely to succeed as Say Yes On 8's "polling over the last 16 months indicates there is an opportunity for passage."

The amendment that Say Yes on 8 and others seek to replace is known as the Blaine Amendment, named for nineteenth century Republican politician James G. Blaine.

A former Secretary of State and GOP presidential candidate, in 1875 while Speaker of the House of Representatives, Blaine proposed an amendment to the United States Constitution that would ban government money from funding religious organizations. While the measure failed at the federal level, several states including Florida adopted "Blaine Amendments" to their constitutions.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the issue of the Blaine Amendment was revived in 2007 when two Christian halfway houses for prisoners were in violation of the "no aid" provision of the amendment by having state contracts for their work.

Opponents to Amendment 8, namely the group "Vote No on 8," believe that the proposed change would harm church-state separation in Florida, rather than aid religious freedom.

"Tallahassee politicians intended to mislead us. Legislators are trying to fool us into believing that this is about religious freedom but it would actually strip away current religious freedom protections by allowing public tax funding for religious programs and religious schools," reads the Vote No on 8 website.

"Faith-based groups perform essential social services every day – much of it with funding through contracts with state agencies. Under current law these services are required to be non-religious and serve the needs of the community without discrimination."

Groups opposed to Amendment 8 include the Florida Education Association teachers' union, the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Anti-Defamation League.

Amendment 8 was put on the ballot by the Florida Legislature. In order for Amendment 8 to pass, it must get the approval of 60 percent of voters.

The group Vote No on 8 did not return comment to The Christian Post by press time.

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