Lawsuit Aims To Remove Amendments 7 And 9 From Florida's November Ballot

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
June 13, 2008 12:00 am

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Keep Government-funded Religion Out of State’s Constitution

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A group of concerned organizations, including The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Florida, filed a lawsuit today in the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Court in and for Leon County on behalf of a group of Floridians representing parents of public school students, teachers, administrators and concerned citizens. The goal of the lawsuit is to prevent Amendments 7 and 9 from reaching the November ballot.

Both amendments were born out of the state’s Taxation and Budget Reform Commission (TBRC), a group that meets every twenty years and is supposed to examine the state’s tax and budgetary process. The commission is attempting to use its unique powers to place amendments directly on the ballot without voter or legislative approval. Amendments 7 and 9, if placed on the ballot and passed, would open the door to taxpayer-funded religion by requiring government funding of church-run programs and vouchers to support sectarian schools.

Amendment 7 would strike the 140-year-old language in the Florida Constitution safeguarding religious liberty and would allow for government-funded religious programs. Amendment 9 would add language to the Constitution to weaken the state’s commitment to improve public schools and overturn the Florida Supreme Court’s 2006 decision, siding with the ACLU, which declared then-Governor Bush’s school voucher program unconstitutional. The ACLU of Florida, along with many of the organizations bringing today’s lawsuit, challenged the voucher program in 1999. In the lawsuit filed today, the organizations and citizens ask the court to order Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning not to place Amendments 7 and 9 on the November ballot. The suit charges that the TBRC exceeded its authority by suggesting unlawful and misleading amendments that do not deal with the taxation or state budgetary process. Furthermore, the suit points out that the language in the amendments is misleading and disingenuous, and thus voters would not likely know the true effect of these amendments.

“The TBRC abused its power and indulged in an ideological crusade,” said Dr. Howard Simon, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “Amending the Florida Constitution to require tax dollars to be spent on religious programs and to undermine essential funding to improve neighborhood public schools has nothing to do with tax or budget policy.

“Even worse, the Commission is dishonest about its radical proposals,” Simon added. “They disguise government funding of church programs as addressing religious discrimination. They are not even honest enough to use the word ‘vouchers,’ which would tell voters what this is really all about.”

Plaintiffs in the case are Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association; Beverly Slough, president of the Florida School Boards Association; Joseph Joyner, president of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents; Fran Giblin, president of the Florida Association of School Administrators; Rabbi Merrill Shapiro; and Harry Parrott Jr., a retired Baptist minister.

Lead counsel in the case is Ronald G. Meyer, Esq. The case was brought by the following civil liberties and public education organizations: Florida Education Association, American Civil Liberties Union Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Florida, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, People For the American Way Foundation, Florida Association of District School Superintendents, and the Anti-Defamation League.

For a copy of the Complaint filed today, visit:www.aclufl.org/pdfs/TBRC_Complaint.pdf

For a copy of the Motion for Temporary Injunction, visit:www.aclufl.org/pdfs/TBRC_TI.pdf

For a copy of the Memo in support for Injunction, visit:www.aclufl.org/pdfs/TBRC_memo.pdf

About the ACLU of FloridaThe American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida is freedom’s watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

For additional information on the ACLU of Florida, visit our Web site at: www.aclufl.org

For additional information on the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, visit: www.aclu.org/religion

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