Forward–article by Rabbi Shapiro
Did you know that Florida has a commission, mandated by Sunshine State voters in 1968, that meets only every 20th year? It began in 1978, met again (different commissioners, but same commission) in 1998, and now in 2018! Prepare yourself—it will meet again in 2038 and 2058 unless the law is changed!
This group is called “The Constitution Revision Commission” and is made up of the Attorney General, fifteen appointees from the Governor, nine appointees from the Florida Senate President, nine appointees from the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives and three appointees from the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court. You need to know this just to get an idea of where on the political spectrum, from left to right, these commissioners are situated!
The work of the Constitution Revision Commission began in September 2017 with organizational meetings and the process of collecting proposals for changing Florida’s Constitution. Proposals were solicited from the public and the commissioners themselves. A process for narrowing the list down from the 782 public proposals and 103 commissioner proposals led to a list of 37 proposals that were brought to a series of “listening meetings” around the state including one on the campus of the University of North Florida. It was an opportunity for public comment on the 37 proposals and 180 people signed up to have their voices heard.
One of the proposals calls for the elimination of language from our Florida Constitution, Article I, SECTION 3. Religious freedom. That Section 3 currently reads:
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 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.
Proposal 4 (it will have a different amendment # when it appears on our ballot) calls for the elimination of that second sentence of Article 1, Section 3. Eliminating that second sentence would allow the government to take revenue from the “public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”
A powerful delegation, led by Freethought Society’s Earl Coggins went to the hearing to oppose Proposal 4. The speakers on our side (and there were many who were not part of the Freethought Society, educators, representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters, prominent among them) were eloquent in their defense of the wall of separation of church and state that has made our country so great. Many spoke of the real intent of this proposal, to fund religious schools that otherwise are unregulated by the state, have teachers with little more than high school educations, principals who have not graduated from college, curricula that teach science based on superstitions debunked during the renaissance and revisionist history that speaks to the Christian roots of our country. Many did not want to be coerced into supporting religious institutions whose teachings are counter to their own beliefs.
Hopefully the commissioners were listening! But if not, Proposal 4 calling on the end of the restriction of funding religious institutions with tax money, yours and mine, will, undoubtedly, find its way to a ballot that you will have an opportunity to cast this fall!
The price of our liberty is eternal vigilance! We were lucky to have Freethought Society President Earl Coggins and his delegation speaking for us, against this proposal!