Amendment would OK taxpayer money for questionable groups

Floridas proposed Constitutional Amendment 8, deceptively titled the Florida Religious Freedom Amendment, is harmful and confusing. This amendment is not about religious freedom at all, which is specifically protected in the U.S. Constitution, but about allowing taxpayer money to go to any group claiming a religious affiliation.

If this amendment passes with 60 percent or more of voter support, it would remove the clause in the Florida Constitution that explicitly forbids the use of public funds for religious organizations, and add the following to the Florida Constitution, according to Ballotpedia:
No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief.

This would allow any religion, sect or cult claiming religious affiliation to be allowed to receive taxpayer dollars.

The lack of established oversight or accountability of the funds could lead to misuse of taxpayer money, which would essentially be funneled away from public schools into private institutions. Furthermore, religious groups already benefit from government aid via tax exemptions.
With the assistance of federal funding, many houses of worship can perform important social functions such as mental health services, job trainings and drug-addiction treatments.

However, critics fear there is no separation of proselytizing, religious activities and education from secular ones. While these crucial programs should absolutely be maintained, vulnerable individuals should not have to be indoctrinated into a belief system just to receive care.

This amendment also violates the principle of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that laws should not be made which support an establishment of religion. No person should be required to fund religious organizations or teachings that they do not believe in.

Passage of this amendment, along with a shift in the Florida Supreme court, would make it easier for a religious school voucher system which was ruled unconstitutional in 2006, according to the National School Boards Association to be put back in place, allowing federal money to be spent on scholarships to send children to religious private schools. Besides taking money away from public schools, institutions that receive vouchers are harmful because they are not beholden to the same standards of student testing and are not required to provide special education.

Amendment 8 is a misleading and un-American attempt to break down the wall of protection between church and state, and voters should vote no on the amendment to keep this vital separation intact.

Danielle Leppo is a senior majoring in technical writing.