UCF students rally against 'religious freedom' amendment
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 15:10
On Tuesday afternoon, students rallied in front of the Student Union in an attempt to get one very specific message out: vote no on amendment 8.
Amendment 8 is increasingly being referred to as the most controversial amendment of all 11 amendments on this year’s election ballot, rivaling amendment 6, which is about abortion rights. Titled “religious freedom,” it was created to repeal the ban on funding faith-based organizations and allow state tax dollars, originally provided only to public schools, to fund religious organizations, churches, religious entities and parochial schools.
Knights Against 8 collaborated with the Secular Student Alliance at UCF to host the rally on campus.
“We’re trying to educate student voters because we are trying to get students much more involved in doing their part to try and enact change and also to protect certain civil liberties,” Jordan Chipps, president of Secular Student Alliance, said.
Amendment 8 is listed as one of eleven amendments on the November ballot in Florida. If passed, it will remove a 126-year-old amendment, the “no aid provision” from Florida’s constitution. Sixty percent of voters must vote yes in order for this to pass into Florida’s constitution.
Chipps a junior film production major, said that current policies allow certain religious organizations, mainly charities, to receive public aid to provide secular services to the public as long as they are not trying to further their own agenda or beliefs.
Todd Foster, a senior political science major, says this is exactly why this amendment should pass.
“Faith-based organizations deserve equal access to funding. For instance, soup kitchens would be hurt by this. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, they [soup kitchens] help poor people and homeless people. Those are the people the money is being taken from if this amendment doesn’t pass,” Foster said.
As students slowly emerged from the Student Union and gathered in front of the patio stage, German Beard, event coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance, introduced two speakers who were invited to share their opinions with the crowd - District 49 candidate, Joe Saunders, and Nancy Robbinson, an Orange County School Board member representing District 6.
Robbinson stated that there are now approximately 200,000 students in the state’s private schools. She continued to say that if all those students were funded in the same way the state funds public schools, four to six billion dollars would be taken away from public education.
“What concerns me is who is going to determine what a religious group is? Are the people in Tallahassee going to decide who gets money? What if they decide to fund Bongheads for Jesus; seriously, you could go in and say you’re a religious group, start a school, all your kids could smoke pot and you could get money,” Robbinson said.
Kerri Carter, a freshman fine arts major, is also against amendment 8 being passed, stating that it is unfair for churches that are already tax exempt to now receive money from the federal government.
“It’s not about religious freedom. It’s a law that’s going to ruin public schools,” Carter said. “My mom is a public school teacher and they barely have money right now because of the way the state has cut the education budget. You don’t hear about private schools struggling, it’s only the public schools.”
Joe Saunders, who is running for District 49 in the House of Representatives, spent some time talking to the students about his background in philanthropy and activism. As a student at UCF, he said he spent a lot of time seeing students get bullied because of who they are and one of the groups that get bullied is religious groups.
“The separation between church and state protects religious minorities…it is a shield. It gives people the promise that they can celebrate whatever faith they want,” Saunders said.
Beard believes that the amendment would actually strip students of their freedoms to practice their religion or even to choose not to have a religion at all.
“It’s brought in under the guise of a religious freedom amendment and when people see that in the ballot they say ‘religious freedom I’m all for that,’ but it actually strips us of our religious freedom or lack thereof to have an environment free of religion if we don’t want it,” Beard said.
Before finishing his speech, Saunders left students with a final thought.
“Do you believe that public education is a right in this state? Because if you do, you have to vote against amendment 8,” Saunders said. “If you believe that the separation between church and state is fundamental for our country, then you need to vote no on amendment 8.”
To find nonpartisan information on the amendments that will be listed on the ballot this year, visit www.thefloridavoter.org.