Florida Flim-Flam: Jeb Bush's Deliberately Deceptive School Voucher Amendments Should Be Removed from November Ballot, Lawsuit Says

By Bathija, Sandhya | Church & State, July-August 2008 | Go to article overview

Florida Flim-Flam: Jeb Bush's Deliberately Deceptive School Voucher Amendments Should Be Removed from November Ballot, Lawsuit Says


Bathija, Sandhya, Church & State


After spending 26 years as a citizen of Florida, the Rev. Harry Parrott has never been so concerned about the state's school system.

The retired Baptist minister doesn't want to see public funding go to religious and other private schools with no accountability, and he believes that most Florida residents don't want that to happen, either.

But Amendments 7 and 9, which are slated to appear on the state's November ballot, will do just that. And Parrot fears that most Floridians may not even know that a "yes" vote on an initiative earmarking 65 percent of public school funds for classroom activities means they are also saying "yes" to taxpayer money for religious schools.

"The Religious Right is practicing deliberate deception here," said Parrott, a Penney Farms, Fla., resident who serves on the National Advisory Council of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "In the polling I have seen, that deception is working beautifully. To most people, it looks like a no-brainer to give more funding for in-classroom activities, but they don't understand what else this is opening the door to."

That's why Parrot joined as a plaintiff in the Ford v. Browning lawsuit, which Americans United and allied organizations will litigate to remove Amendments 7 and 9 from Florida's November ballot.

These amendments would permit voucher subsidies for religious and other private schools in Florida and eliminate the state constitution's strict language barring tax aid to religion. The referenda are yet another attempt by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to push his faith-based agenda and get around a Florida Supreme Court ruling that struck down school vouchers.

Florida's "no aid" provisions, and similar language in three-fourths of state constitutions, have served as a great bulwark for religious liberty. If Amendments 7 and 9 appear on the ballot and are approved by 60 percent of voters, however, Florida residents will no longer benefit from this protection.

"These dangerous proposals have no business being on the ballot," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "The Tax Commission exceeded its authority and placed deceptive amendments before the voters. The courts should not allow this to happen."

The coalition lawsuit, filed June 13 in Leon Circuit Court in Tallahassee, asserts that the Florida Tax and Budget Reform Commission exceeded its authority since neither amendment deals with "taxation or the state budgetary process."

Amendment 7 would remove current constitutional language forbidding the use of any public funds "directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution." In place of those words, the new Article I, Section 3 would state: "An individual or entity may not be barred from participating in any public program because of religion."

Amendment 9 would remove from the constitution language that a "paramount duty of the state" is a "uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools." The revised Article IX, Section 1 will state, "this duty shall be fulfilled, at a minimum and not exclusively" through public schools, invalidating the Florida Supreme Court's Bush v. Holmes decision.

The lawsuit also alleges the title of Amendment 9, "Public Funding of Education," along with the summary language, do not provide the "true effect" of the initiative and may not lawfully be placed on the ballot.

Cleverly attached to Amendment 9 is a measure that will require at least 65 percent of public school funds to be spent on classroom activities.

A poll from Quinnipiac University showed that 63 percent of voters would approve Amendment 9 because of the "65 percent solution." But if the voucher proposal stood alone, only 38 percent would favor it.

Mark Pudlow, a spokesperson for the Florida Education Association, told The Tampa Tribune the coupling of the voucher provision and the "65 percent" provision was a "calculated effort.

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