It is the view of credible historians and academic scholars that the founding fathers, in order to preserve true religious freedoms, determined our government should separate and isolate itself from religious faith and practice. These ideas are outlined in the First Amendment of the Constitution and read “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” It is in this concept that America is unique, and if there is nothing else to boast about, we can at least lay claim to being the first among other nations to write into organic law the total and final separation of church and state.
The same cannot be said of many other countries, for the relationship between church and state tends to be much closer due to decades of ingrained reinforcement. In England, for example, whoever is the head of the monarchy is ex officio head of the church as well as the state and armed forces. In Germany, citizens must pay a tithe to either a synagogue, Catholic church or Protestant church, regardless of differing religious affiliations. As the late, great author Christopher Hitchens noted, “Fortunately in America we have better traditions; we have Thomas Jefferson, we have Thomas Paine, the First Amendment and the Virginia statutes on religious freedoms.”
Recently however, there have been attempts to break down this wall of separation in the Constitution and move back toward the oppressive policies our founding fathers were determined to escape. An amendment placed on the Florida ballot for 2012 would remove the longstanding ban on taxpayer funded religious institutions. The proposed measure has been misleadingly titled the “Florida Religious Freedom, Amendment 8” and reads, “No individual or entity may be discriminated against or barred from receiving funding on the basis of religious identity or belief.” Originally thrown out last year by Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis for being ambiguous and misleading, the amendment was quickly rewritten and slipped onto the ballot for 2012.
Vice President of Outreach for Secular Woman Bridget Gaudette argues that the amendment is “a deliberate action by the author(s) to fool voters.” She goes on to say that “the potential negative consequences would affect Florida’s children, religious communities within the state, civil rights, church/state separation and how our tax dollars are used.” Under Amendment 8, taxpayer money could end up funding proselytizing for religious institutions that hold differing opinions on homosexuality, Islam, reproductive rights and any other possible social issue. Even more outrageous, there would be no way of checking where the money was spent in order to avoid these violations. This is because the institutions are places of worship and not required to show their books, because they are tax exempt.
Public relations director for American Atheists and former Pastor Teresa MacBain calls Amendment 8 “A gateway drug for the Florida legislature as it continually strips away the equal rights of Floridians.” Organizations like American Atheists as well as the Secular Coalition for America are committed to protecting the rights of citizens in Florida by helping fight Amendment 8. Due to the misleading nature of the amendment, it is important that voters understand what it is they are voting for in November. Secular Student Alliance at UCF President Jordan Chipps said, “Exposing the deceptive language used in Amendment 8 aligns perfectly with our organization’s dedication to critical thinking and skepticism. It is our duty to help educate voters and give them the power to properly choose either yes or no on 8.”