How would you feel about paying for a Christian school, even if your child didn't go there? What about an Islamic school? A Jewish school? Some state and local leaders say that might soon happen through an amendment to Florida's constitution.
Amendment 8 is among eleven proposed amendments on the ballot this fall. Those amendments push many Floridians' ballots to six pages or more in length. The fear of both supporters and opponents is that many voters might skip the lengthy amendments altogether.
"Just vote no," says Joie Cadle, an Orange County School Board member. "It's that simple."
Cadle is so concerned about Amendment 8 because she says it would damage Florida's public schools. How? Because the amendment would allow public tax dollars to go to religious groups. That's why Amendment 8 is titled the "Religious Freedom" amendment.
"It really is, in my opinion, mistitled," Cadle explains. "It should be called 'Religious Funding.' The ‘Religious Freedom'? That is where it falls in the constitution."
"This amendment is worded misleading," adds State Representative Scott Randolph, D-Orlando. "Do not believe at all that this about religious freedom. It's about people trying to get their hands on your child's public school dollars."
Rep. Randolph isn't alone. Initially, even a state judge yanked it off the ballot for being ambiguous and misleading, but a re-written version got back on.
However, major religious groups like the Catholic Diocese of Orlando disagree with those arguments. "The government has already been funding faith based organizations for years, and the reason they do that is because we do an excellent job," says Deborah Shearer.
State Representative Stephen Precourt, R-Orlando, co-sponsored the legislation which put this amendment on the ballot. "We're taking the Blaine language out that says, ‘Government you must discriminate against people of faith.' That's effectively what this language in our state constitution today does," Rep. Precourt explains. "We're replacing it with language that says, 'Government you may not discriminate against people of faith.' So, that's what Amendment 8 does, in effect."
"And in a sense," adds Shearer, "It will protect those faith-based organizations that could be taken to court just because of their faith. That's why we call it a religious discrimination issue."
Still the many opponents of Amendment 8 point to the U.S. Constitution for reason enough to vote against the proposal. "our founding fathers put separation of church and state into the constitution for a reason," says Rep. Randolph.
Opponents also raise other questions: what is a religion? How do you define it? What is not a religion? This proposed amendment does not answer any of those questions.
"So anybody who wanted to claim a religion, anybody from any sect that wanted to claim religion, the state actually couldn't deny them funding for schools," says Rep. Randolph. "So this is really trying to take public tax dollars, specifically education dollars, and handing them over to unaccountable schools."
Again, supporters disagree. "That's a red herring, by the way," counters Rep. Precourt. "Because the day after this amendment passes, the law as it exists today will be no different as far as money going to religious schools."
Unprompted, OCPS Board member Joie Cadle predicted a response like that from Precourt. "I'm sure the opponents will say, 'Oh, this is a red herring. They're trying to scare you that this is going to happen,'" Cadle told FOX 35. "But there are no guarantees. And in this life, I've learned as a public official, if there are no guarantees sometimes it doesn't work out the way you think it should."
There is no guarantee. The amendment does not say how your tax dollars can be spent, nor does it say what defines a religion, therefore, which groups could get your money.
Here is how Amendment 8, the "Religious Freedom" Amendment, will appear on the ballot:
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.
To learn more about the legislation which put this amendment on the ballot: http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2011/1471