The Battle Over Florida’s Amendment 8 Begins

On November 6, 2012 Floridians will be asked to vote on eleven amendments to the state constitution. Of these amendments Amendment 8 has become the flash point with groups favoring and opposing passage digging in their heels. The war on words has become a full-fledged battle for the hearts and minds of voters.

The proposed ballot question reads:

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 of 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.

The proposed measure would amend Section 3 of Article I of the Florida Constitution to read:

There shall be no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with public morals, peace, or safety. No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief. No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.

Two groups launched websites explaining Amendment 8: Say Yes on 8 and Vote No on 8.

Vote No on 8 states, “Amendment 8, the so-called ‘Religious Freedom’ Amendment, isn’t about Religious Freedom at all. Amendment 8 actually allows the government to give our tax dollars to any group claiming to be a religious organization.”

Say Yes on 8 states, “Amendment 8 preserves time-honored partnerships between government and social service organizations. Amendment 8 ensures continued delivery of social services by faith-based organizations, lowering government costs for taxpayers. Amendment 8 eliminates discrimination against churches and religious institutions that provide social services.”

Amendment 8, if passed, would take the Blaine Amendment out of the Florida Constitution. The Blaine Amendment refers to constitutional provisions that exist in 38 of the 50 state constitutions in the United States, which forbid direct government aid to educational institutions that have any religious affiliation. The Blaine Amendment was originally aimed at Catholics, most notably the Irish, who had immigrated to the U.S. and started their own parochial schools.

In 2002, the United States Supreme Court in the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision partially vitiated these Blaine amendments when it ruled that vouchers were constitutional if state funds followed a child to a privately chosen school, even if it were religious. For a voucher program to be constitutional it must meet all of the following criteria: the program must have a valid secular purpose; aid must go to parents and not to the schools; a broad class of beneficiaries must be covered; the program must be neutral with respect to religion; and there must be adequate nonreligious options.

Billy Atwell in an editorial for the Diocese of Venice in Florida states, “Some support the work of faith-based institutions, but disagree with these institutions accepting government money. They fear faith-based groups would become beholden to the mighty arm of government. Shouldn’t these groups be allowed to serve those in need and do what they do well? It is one thing to say faith-based groups shouldn’t accept government dollars—it is entirely different to outlaw their eligibility for these funds. The current law also flies in the face of religious freedom. Singling out capable social service providers simply because they are faith-based is fiscally unsound and, without a doubt, discrimination.”

While the arguments used by each group focus on religious freedom the real issue is control of taxpayer dollars for K-12 education.

For many it boils down to money, particularly money for K-12 schooling flowing into charter or private faith-based schools. Proponents argue that parents should decide where their child goes to school and the money allocated by the state should follow the child. That is not the case in Florida. Public education fits the definition of a monopoly. This amendment would free parents from being forced into a particular public school. School choice would be empowered if Amendment 8 passes by giving the funding for the child directly to the parent.

Florida Representative Stephen Precourt, a spokesman for the Say Yes on 8 campaigns, stated, “They shouldn’t be telling a group that just because you’re faith-based organization you shouldn’t be participating in the market! Education is a marketplace.”

The ballot question boils down to: Should public funding for education follow the child?

RELATED COLUMN: North Carolina Voters Say Public Education Underperforming, On Wrong Track

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“No More Defense Cuts”

There are twenty-one military bases in Florida and the state is home to 1.6 million veterans. The Coalition for the Common Defense (CCD) has launched a national advocacy campaign aimed at preventing further cuts to the U.S. military of $500 billion dollars or more in January 2013 pursuant to the “sequestration” mechanism created under the Budget Control Act of 2011.

The CCD campaign will feature a series of video advertisements demonstrating the dangers of the sorts of deep and across-the-board defense spending cuts being considered. The first spot premiered today and can be viewed here. The campaign is designed to encourage the American public to express their opposition to these cuts. The Coalition will facilitate such communications with the White House and Senate through a portal at its web-site here.

Regarding the campaign launch and the need to avert sequestration, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., a member of the Coalition for the Common Defense, remarked:

“Defense has already paid its fair share into deficit reduction and we cannot safely and responsibly try to balance the budget on the backs of our men and women in uniform. This campaign, and specifically the Coalition’s ads, will bring home to the American people the reckless absurdity of these defense cuts – and the need to avoid the train-wreck they will precipitate.”

The mandated sequestration cuts come on top of an already budgeted $487 billion reduction over the next 10 years as part of Budget Control Act of 2011.

The additional $500 billion in sequestration cuts would prove devastating to Florida, both militarily and economically. Militarily, this would result in the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest Navy since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in history. Economically, sequestration could result in $62.9 billion in lost revenues for defense contractors, projected job losses of over 1.3 million, and an $86.4 billion decrease in Gross Domestic Product.

The House of Representatives has acted on legislation that would stave off budget reductions and their attendant impact for at least a year, giving the executive and legislative branches time to devise a different, less reckless approach to deficit reduction. The Senate has yet to act, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama insisting that any such relief must be accompanied by tax increases.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. continued:

“The American people do not want the White House and the Senate to hold our military hostage to budget gamesmanship. It is unconscionable to play politics with the arming, training and sustaining of our troops – particularly if, by so doing, the President and Senate leaders may be jeopardizing not only their missions, but their lives.”

The Coalition for the Common Defense is an alliance of like-minded individuals and organizations who believe that without provision for the “common defense,” as articulated by the Founders, the freedom that has allowed unprecedented opportunity and prosperity to flourish in this country would soon be imperiled. In this new age of budgetary cuts, the Coalition rejects the false choice between military strength and economic health contending that economic prosperity depends on a strong national defense. Through a series of events and strategic partnerships, the coalition is calling on elected officials, candidates for office and others who share our commitment to the common defense to uphold these principles. Coalition member believe the United States “must return to sensible fiscal principles without sacrificing our national security”.

Raising the National Debt – Doing Evil in the Name of Good

debt

Many people see government debt, over regulation and control of individuals, families and our natural resources as necessary to the good of the collective. May I humbly suggest that this is a violation of natural law as envisioned by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution?

Debt is in and of itself not immoral if the person encumbers himself for a his purpose – expanding a business, building a home or sending a child to college. It becomes an immoral act when debt is incurred without the consent of the indebted. The National Debt is taxation of the individual and future generations without representation.

This summer President Obama will ask Congress to raise the debt ceiling.

This effort will become political theatre of the first order with the media. Both sides will be touting the good and the bad of raising the debt ceiling. I predict that the debt ceiling will be raised, which is the consummate example of doing evil in the name of good. Progressives will argue that the poor will be harmed if the debt ceiling is not raised. Their plea is that only government can sustain the poor for the poor will never be capable of sustaining themselves due to a corrupted society.

Their argument is false on its face.

It is false because it is government that defines poor, not the poor defining themselves. There have been since time immemorial those who have more and those who have less. However, it has only been recently that those with less have been defined as a “class of poor”. Charles Murray in his book “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010” notes, “Michael Harrington’s The Other America created a stir when it was published in 1962 partly because Harrington said America’s poor constituted a class separate from the working class – a daring proposition. At the time, the poor were not seen as a class, either by other Americans or in their own eyes. The poor were working-class people who didn’t make much money.”

The public debate is all about jobs. Jobs mean a working class. The working class consists of all those working or earning a living or having a job not supported by government subsidy. The private sector working class has shrunk under both Democrat and Republican administrations. There is a growing concern that today more people vote for a living than work for a living. The private sector creates prosperity, which in turn creates jobs, which in turn allows the working class to advance and be less poor. Prosperity comes from productive work, not government welfare.

Government at every level consumes wealth and uses it for its own ends. Our republican form of government was created to protect individual property. Property was defined in broad terms by James Madison, author of the Constitution. Madison wrote, “[Property] embraces everything to which a man may attach a value and have a right: and which leaves to everyone else the like advantage. In the former sense, a man’s land, or merchandize, or money is called his property. In the latter sense, a man has property in his opinions, and the free communication of them.”

Madison believed, “As a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property to his right.”

Take away a man’s property and he is no longer a man but a slave. Government at every level has created reasons to limit man in both its property right and his right to property. For decades the federal, state and local governments have instituted laws and regulations designed to smother property rights. Government at every level is becoming what Thomas Jefferson called the “feudal-ruler form of government”. In the feudal-ruler scheme according to Brian Sussman, author of “Eco-Tyranny: How the Left’s Green Agenda will Dismantle America”, “The rights of the government become superior to the rights of citizens.”

Only when men and women own property are they truly free. We must be superior to our government or tyranny will reign supreme – forever.