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Palm Coast Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 8 years ago

Government should not fund religion

by: Rabbi Merrill Shapiro

Editor’s Note: Circuit Judge Terry P. Lewis has rendered a decision in a lawsuit by eight plaintiffs from around the state, including local Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, that seeks to remove from the November 2012 ballot a measure that would allow taxpayer dollars to be used for religion.

I applaud the judge’s ruling that the proposed language of Amendment 7 is “ambiguous and misleading.” Supporters of the amendment tried to claim that it would advance religious freedom, but in fact it would do the opposite.

The goal of Amendment 7 is to do away with our state constitution’s “No-Aid” provision and allow the government to decide what religious denominations, what churches, what sects should be supported with our tax dollars.

Hopefully, this decision is a first step in keeping the issue off the November 2012 ballot. If it does go on the ballot, at least voters will know the true effect of the amendment when they make their decision. And it will give everyone some time to reconsider this notion that rather than individual citizens deciding what religious institutions and schools to support, the government will do it for us!

Some 37 states around the country, including Florida, specifically bar the use of taxpayer dollars for religious schools or other ministries in their state constitutions. This is a critically important constitutional safeguard that allows each of us support only the religious institutions that we believe in.

It is wrong for the state government of Florida to use its powers of taxation to extract from Floridians monies to support religious activities. This is especially problematic when our public school teachers are so underpaid, our officers of the law, firefighters and first responders are going without cost-of-living increases, and here we are going to use taxpayer money to fund religious institutions. It just doesn’t make sense.

This proposal seems, as well, to be another case of out-of-control “big government.” Our legislators, whom the judge feels have used ambiguous and misleading language to try and get us to vote with them on this issue, want to enlarge government and send tax money to religious programs that are not currently funded because of Article 3 of our state Constitution.

Amendment 7 would tax people to support religion, and that’s a truly bad idea. I hope our lawsuit puts a stop to it.

Merrill Shapiro, of Palm Coast, is the president of the National Board of Trustees of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

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