One of the most politically important states in the country is the swing state of Florida. Florida has been a mixed bag over the years as conservatives and liberals populate the state, but since the 2008 election, conservative Christians have grown in numbers.
In 2011, the "Religious Freedom Act," or Amendment 7, was proposed to be put on the Florida state ballot in 2012. The amendment would let parents receive taxpayer-funded vouchers to send their children to private religious schools. In December of 2011, after backlash from the ACLU and other groups, a judge ruled against the bill calling it "ambiguous and misleading." After the judge's ruling, Florida Attorney General, Pam Bondi, rewrote the bill calling it "Amendment 8: Religious Freedom."
Amendment 8- "Religious Freedom"-
"Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution providing that no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding or other support, except as required by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and deleting the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."
Many in Florida are protesting the bill claiming it violates the separation of church and state and are worried it will cut further funding from public education. Speaking to WFTV in Central Florida, Orange County School Board Chair, Bill Sublette, expressed his concerns over the potential passage of the bill.
"Its true purpose is to allow public tax dollars to be spent on religious schools...My concerns are, first and foremost as a citizen, I don't want my tax dollars going to support a religious institution. Secondly, I think it will decrease the funding available for Florida public schools. That is a very serious concern."
WFTV also spoke to a representative of the Diocese of Orlando, a major Catholic church in Central Florida. Deborah Stafford Shearer expressed the need to pass the bill because the church believes religious freedom is under attack.
"Religious entities are targets right now. Anyone who wants to take a religious organization to court can do so, with this clause they would have the right to extricate funding that we are already receiving."
Taxpayer money funding private and religious schools is something that is a growing trend in the United States today. Last month in Louisiana, through the state's voucher program, the New Living World School was approved for $2.7 million in taxpayer money to help fund their school as long as they can meet the required number of student's enrolled. Earlier this month in Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Corbett passed a new tax credit that will cost $50 million by giving the credits to corporations that help donate money to the voucher program.
Florida is known as a swing state, but as the years have gone on, the Sunshine State has become overwhelmed with conservative Christians. In November, voters in Florida will decide whether tax exempt churches can receive taxpayer money to help fund their religious schools at a time when Republican governor, Rick Scott, continues to take an ax to the public education budget.