Like most states, Florida’s constitution has a boilerplate clause on the separation of church and state that resembles that of the United States constitution. But a startling move by the state’s Constitution Revision Commission, which reviews the Florida constitution every 20 years, may lead to the removal of the prohibition of the state giving funds to religious institutions.
As Hemant Mehta at The Friendly Atheist writes, the Florida CRC’s Declaration of Rights subcommittee voted 5-1 last week “in favor of a proposal that would eliminate that ban on funding religion.”
The proposal the committee voted overwhelmingly for would “remove the prohibition against using public revenues in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or any sectarian institution,” a screenshot of the subcommittee’s measure shows.
As Mehta noted, all 37 members of the CRC are Republicans, as they’re nearly all appointed by the state’s governor, leaders of its House and Senate and the Florida Supreme Court’s Chief Justice.
Jiri Hulcr, an assistant professor at the University of Florida, attended the meeting and called it “eye-opening” in an editorial for The Gainesville Sun published earlier on Wednesday.
“What I witnessed was not prudent and unbiased deliberation,” Hulcr wrote, “but a show scripted for public consumption. Several commissioners did not even pretend to represent the people, and instead were justifying a clear agenda. Commissioner John Stemberger, for example, was beaming with excitement as he proceeded to lecture about the benefits of connecting, not separating, church and state. ‘Faith is a public good … Our job [as the commission] is not to be successful, it is to be faithful,’ Stemberger said.”
Hulcr also noted that the proposal is likely to pass the entire Republican-dominated committee, which would then lead to the question of whether state funds should be used to fund religious institutions could be posed to Florida voters as early as 2018.
The separation of church and state is also at risk in the a provision in the Republican tax bill passed by the United States Senate early last Saturday morning that would allow churches to endorse or oppose political candidates from the pulpit and retain their non-profit status. “Pulpit politicking” has been prohibited by the Johnson Amendment since 1954 — and the GOP tax bill did not include measures to repeal it.