By Jennifer Hawks, BJC Associate General Counsel
A groundswell of support from Baptist, Jewish and other religious liberty supporters saved an important protection in the Florida Constitution during a year-long review process.
The Florida Constitution requires lawmakers to reevaluate it every 20 years and propose additions or deletions to it; voters then approve or reject the proposals at the ballot box. This process is accomplished through the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), with members appointed by various state officials.
The BJC and our Florida supporters have been monitoring this year’s CRC as the commission had been considering one specific proposal to repeal an important protection for religious liberty: the state’s “no-aid” clause.
Thirty-nine states have some sort of a “no-aid” constitutional provision that prohibits the state from spending money to support a house of worship. These provisions have a long history, with some even pre-dating the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Baptists and other colonial religious dissenters fought for these early religious liberty protections that separated their churches from state funding and control.
During this current debate, Baptists joined with other Christian, Jewish and non-Christian neighbors to support the state “no-aid” clause, reaffirming the importance of this provision in providing religious freedom for all Floridians. Advocates signed letters opposing the proposal to remove the “no-aid” clause, testified at public hearings and called state lawmakers.
“No-aid” clauses ensure that taxpayers are not forced to financially support houses of worship. Voluntary assemblies, not coerced government-approved ones, promote a vital faith.
After its meeting on March 21, the CRC voted to send 25 proposals for finalization. The entire CRC will reconvene in April to consider these 25 proposals and vote on which ones will be placed on the 2018 general election ballot. Despite its introduction early in the process, repealing the “no-aid” clause is not among the 25 proposals to be considered in that April meeting.