Jeb Bush's Voucher scam, Amendment named "Religious Freedom", sent back to be renamed

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Judge tosses ‘Religious Freedom’ amendment from 2012 ballot

 | 12.14.11 | 1:10 pm
Judge Terry Lewis today ruled that a proposed amendment to Florida’s constitution that would repeal a ban on taxpayer funding for religious institutions is deceptive and must be rewritten before it can appear on the state’s 2012 ballot.
A coalition of educators, religious leaders and civil liberties advocates filed the challenge to the amendment in July, claiming the ballot’s wording was deceptive. The groups claimed the amendment, which was presented as a “Religious Freedom” measure, was passed for other reasons — mostly to open up greater public funding for private schools.
According to Lewis’ final judgement summary, he found “the ballot summary ambiguous and misleading.”
The Florida Education Association said in a press release today that in his ruling, Judge Lewis wrote: “It naturally flows from the language deleted and the language added that the primary effect of the amendment will be to make it a lot harder for the state to deny funding or program benefits to a sectarian institution.”
Association President Andy Ford said Amendment 7 would “have required taxpayers to fund a broad array of religious programs and institutions.”
“The judge agreed that taxpayers and voters need to be told the truth and that the purpose and effect of the amendment was not clear in the ballot summary and was misleading to voters,” Ford said.
According to Ford, if enacted, “Amendment 7 could open the gateway to school vouchers for all.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, another group challenging the law, echoed that sentiment today.
“The measure claims to advance religious freedom but, in fact, it would repeal state constitutional safeguards that prohibit the use of public funds for religious schools and other ministries,” the group said in a press release.
The group argued that the amendment “would even require the state government to fund religious groups when it makes public funds available to non-religious organizations.”
While the decision is a victory for the organizations challenging the law, the judge did disagree with the groups’ challenge to a provision in Florida’s new elections law that requires the attorney general to rewrite a ballot measure when it is found to be deceptive.
As The Florida Independent previously reported, Florida GOP legislators slipped little-noticed rules into this year’s elections bill that made it harder to challenge the language of a ballot measure. One provision creates stricter time limits for challenging ballot measures, as well as shifting responsibilities away from the Legislature. It allows the attorney general to rewrite an amendment’s ballot title or summary if it is successfully challenged in court.
Ron Meyer, the attorney who filed the legal challenge to the ballot measure, said this provision “violates separation of powers” in the state. He argued that by passing the law, the Legislature gave responsibility that is “purely a legislative matter” to the executive branch.
According the judge’s summary, however, he felt the provision does not “violate the separation of powers doctrine.”
Ford said in the FEA’s statement the group is “reviewing [Judge Lewis'] ruling and will decide later whether to challenge that ruling in an appellate court.”
Howard Simon, the executive director of the ACLU of Florida (another challenger), said in a statement today that “the court’s order should serve as a reminder to Florida voters to be very wary of anything the Legislature wants to do – especially on a topic this important.”
“They are intentionally using deceptive language to trick us all into unknowingly sacrificing our freedoms,” he said.

Amendment at least temporarily off Fla. ballot

The Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A proposal that would repeal a ban on public funding of churches and other religious organizations is off the ballot, at least temporarily.
A judge in Tallahassee on Wednesday removed the proposed state constitutional amendment due to a misleading ballot summary.
But Circuit Judge Terry Lewis also upheld a new law that will let Attorney General Pam Bondi rewrite the summary.
Lewis found a phrase saying the amendment would be "consistent with the United States Constitution" ambiguous and misleading.
That's because the amendment itself uses different language.
Besides repealing the existing "no aid" provision, the amendment would require state and local governments to fund religious organizations in certain circumstances.
The Florida Education Association challenged the amendment because it would lift a potential obstacle to school vouchers.

Judge tosses Religious Freedom amendment from ballot, for now

By Paul Flemming
Florida Capital Bureau
Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis has stricken Amendment 7 from next November's ballot, for the time being removing the proposal the Legislature titled the Religious Freedom amendment that would allow the state greater leeway to fund religious-affiliated programs.
Lewis ruled that the summary language that would appear on the ballot was unconstitutionally ambiguous.
Further, Lewis ruled in another challenge brought by the Florida Education Association, that the state's attorney general can re-write the portions of the ballot summary found unconstitutional and fix it so it can appear on the ballot.
Lewis' ruling includes an example of ballot-summary language that would be constitutional. The combination of rulings, barring different opinions by higher courts, means the proposed amendment could still appear on November's ballot with the wording changed.
"Specifically, I find that the phrase 'consistent with the United States Constitution' is ambiguous and misleading in light of the language of the proposed amendment itself, which uses the phrase 'Except to the extent required by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,'" Lewis wrote in his 12-page ruling.
Florida Education Association President Andy Ford said Lewis' ruling was the right one. The teachers union is one of the plaintiffs in the legal challenge against the amendment.
“We applaud the judge’s decision," Ford said in a statement. "Amendment 7 would have required taxpayers to fund a broad array of religious programs and institutions.”
The proposed amendment, sponsored in the Legislature by state Sen. Thad Altman, a Melbourne Republican, would have the effect of nullifying current provisions of the state's constitution, specifically the Blaine amendment prohibits any government money "directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."
That portion of the state's constitution is stricter than the U.S. Constitution's "no establishment" portion of the Bill of Rights.
However, Lewis said the proposed amendment would go beyond merely aligning Florida's constitutional language with the federal First Amendment.
"Whereas before, the provision was more restrictive than the First Amendment relative to spending public funds that might aid a sectarian institution, if it passes, the provision will be more restrictive as to the withholding of public funds from sectarian institutions," Lewis wrote.
The Florida Education Association's Ford said the union is considering whether to further challenge Lewis' ruling about the attorney general's authority to rewrite the ballot summary.


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