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Crossing Out Amendment 8: Public Money Does Not Belong in Religious Schools

| October 29, 2012

Parochial schools can afford their bills without taxpayers’ help. (Susan WD)

By Cary McMullen

Several ill-advised proposals to amend the state constitution are on the ballot next week, and one of them would do away with Florida’s so-called Blaine Amendment that forbids state money from being used for “sectarian” purposes.

“Sectarian” refers among other things to religious matters, and this proposal, Amendment 8, taps into a complicated history.

Cary McMullen


florida voices columnists flaglerlive

In the late 1800s, Catholic immigrants protested the practices in public schools, which reflected the prevailing Protestant ethos of the country and frequently included prayers and exhortations that had an unabashed Protestant character.

So Catholics started their own school systems, and they complained that because the alternative was forcing their children to endure Protestant indoctrination paid for by tax dollars, Catholics were entitled to public money to pay for schools that supported their own faith.

In 1875, James G. Blaine, Speaker of the U.S. House, proposed an amendment to the Constitution that would have made it clear that no public money should ever be given to religious or religiously sponsored organizations. Blaine was not anti-Catholic himself, but there was strong sentiment against public funds going to Catholic schools.

Even though the amendment failed, states were quick to pick up the effort, and eventually 37 state constitutions, including Florida’s, had Blaine Amendments.

Supporters of Amendment 8 have tried to spin it different ways: that it eliminates a vestige of bigotry against Catholics; that because religious organizations cannot bid for state money they are being treated unfairly, and so on. They have also tried to say it has nothing to do with funding private religious education through vouchers, which is very hard to believe.

Times have changed, and today it is evangelicals complaining about their kids being indoctrinated with secular ideologies in public school. They’ve teamed up with Catholics, whose position has never changed, and they are salivating at the prospect of tapping state coffers to pay for students’ tuition at religious schools.

After all, private education is expensive and a voucher for the per-pupil amount the local public school would get makes St. Perpetua Catholic School or Triumph Christian Academy a lot more attractive to the parents of prospective students.

In theory, the U.S. Constitution forbids this under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that vouchers may be permissible under some circumstances. The ironclad language of the Blaine Amendment is standing in the way of Florida private school administrators, and Amendment 8 is their weapon to smash that barrier.


Contrary to the convictions of militant atheists and the ACLU, there are certain circumstances in which a partnership between the state and religious institutions is a good thing and ought to be encouraged. Where a denominational organization provides social services, they should be able to do so under contract with a modicum of guidelines about proselytizing.

But education is a very different kettle of fish. Religious groups have no rights to public money when it comes to funding private schools, precisely because religious indoctrination is part and parcel of the mission of those schools, and taxpayers should not have to pay for that.

Religious groups can complain all they want that they are being discriminated against, but one U.S. Supreme Court ruling to the contrary, there is a long legal and cultural tradition against mingling public monies with private religious education. What they call discrimination is in fact only being compelled to obey that tradition.

Some religious organizations that might otherwise legitimately be able to contract with the state are shut out under the Blaine Amendment, and that’s too bad. But if that’s the price to pay to keep religious schools’ hands out of the state till, so be it.

Cary McMullen is a journalist and editor who lives in Lakeland. He can be reached by email here.

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19 Responses for “Crossing Out Amendment 8: Public Money Does Not Belong in Religious Schools”

  1. Beatrice Stone says:

    Church-based schools are well-known as exceptional teaching institutions. I personally experienced such an education a number of decades ago, on my parent’s dime. If our children are better served educationally by a church-based education, it raises the the bar for all teaching institutions, and improves the nation as a whole. Those parents pay taxes for public education; why shouldn’t those dollars be used as vouchers to pay for an education for their children to receive a better education, stronger moral code, and preparation to be a contributor, not a taker, to our country?

    • jespo says:

      You assume morality is faith based and can be gained in no other means.

    • justme57 says:

      I agree, My tax dollars goes towards education, I don’t have any children but taxes still go education why not give the tax dollars of the parents who send their children where they choose.

  2. Miguel Diaz says:

    Wouldn’t wanna give religious groups a dime but, crackheads? Sure!!!

  3. DWFerg says:

    I support Amendment 8, even if it opens the door to religions for which I do not belong also are entitled to public funding—-Forget history, aren’t we trying to “fundamentally CHANGE America” for the better ? As much as I like the idea of a “separation of Church and state”, the current public school system is a failure for many students , including here in Flagler County. Catholic schools, in general, have a record of outperforming public schools in academics and in requiring standards of conduct and Character. In this way, they are often a Preferred choice for parents , Except they cannot afford the tuition. You see, if the Government were to partially subsidize(tax relief perhaps) the Catholic schools, then the real issues of underperforming public schools would automatically be back on the front page of discussion.After all, all Taxpayers Must pay for public education in most cases, even when they have no children or after paying 30 years or more into the school system through property taxes.Since Flagler Co. depends on the property owners almost exclusively to fund Education here(98 % +), shouldn’t superior schools get some of that tax money ? If not , WHY Not ?–Don’t tell me about the Blaine amendment– we once were able to teach all of our children how to Read and Write in the primary grades.. Today, this is often a complete failure for too many students. This must be Fixed or America will continue its decline in the international arena of world competition and economic might !

  4. Stevie says:

    The government has no right to tax people of faith if they can not benefit the same as other classes of people. No one forces anyone to go to religious schools, that would be indoctrination. People of faith who can not afford to pay a premium for private religious schools are forced to an indoctrination that is imposed by the secular humanists through the public education system.

    • jespo says:

      Then a little bit of light in the darkness is a bad thing? Indoctrinate your children at home, that doesn’t take money.

  5. Maureen Vidal says:

    Why should religious groups get public funding? They already get tax-exempt status? If you want to indoctrinate your child pay for it yourself. Funny how that goes…smaller government squawkers until you want something yourselves.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Our TAX $$$ should follow the kid into whichever school (as long as it is up state educational standards) the kid gos to. The money that the Government gives should not be only to itsself.

  7. Citizens for Religious Freedom and Non-Discrimination support passage of Amendment 8 want to ensure continued delivery of crucial social services by faith-based organizations and preserving time-honored public-private partnerships between government and social service organizations. Recent lawsuits, based upon the Blaine Amendment, makes these programs vulnerable today and into the future. Passage of Amendment 8 will eliminate this vulnerability.

    Vouchers, which are unconstitutional today, will be unconstitutional after the election no matter what happens.

    Religious organizations have an equal and rightful place in the public square and should not have their freedom to participate there limited simply because they are religious. Amendment 8 ensures religious organizations and individuals the right to provide services for the common good.

  8. Stevie says:

    Religious groups are merely non profit organizations. All of the members of the non profits pay taxes. There are many non profit non religious groups that benefit from government funding. No one forces anyone to belong to a non profit group except for the public education system. Any group that is made up of taxpaying citizens that are denied government benefits because of what they believe in is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

  9. Samuel Smith says:

    Faith-based institutions don’t need government funds, they make plenty off of tithes. If you’re worried they don’t have enough to support a school, ask your pastor why he’s building a megachurch instead of tending his flock.

  10. Phoenix8 says:

    We sent our 3 sons to N.Y. Catholic schools from Prep to H.S. even though it meant a lot of sacrifice as we were only making minimum wages, but we wanted to make sure they receive quality education, learn discipline, and be safe, while we were out working. We were never on public dole, although we could have used some help from the government ar pay taxes to, instead I worked two full time jobs to manage our finances, and carved the time to still have quality time for our sons, who I’m proud to say, grew up to be good, independent, and well mannered men. I support funding for religious schools even though we didn’t get any help before because parents don’t have to leave their children longer than they have to, working, to make it possible. No offense to public education, I’m a product of one, but that was a long time ago, in a different place, during a very different time.

  11. Phoenix8 says:

    We sent our 3 sons to N.Y. Catholic schools from Prep to H.S. even though it meant a lot of sacrifice as we were only making minimum wages, but we wanted to make sure they receive quality education, learn discipline, and be safe, while we were out working. We were never on public dole, although we could have used some help from the government we pay taxes to, instead I worked two full time jobs to manage our finances, and carved the time to still have quality time for our sons, who I’m proud to say, grew up to be good, independent, and well mannered men. I support funding for religious schools even though we didn’t get any help before because parents don’t have to leave their children longer than they have to, working, to make it possible. No offense to public education, I’m a product of one, but that was a long time ago, in a different place, during a very different time.

  12. Stevie says:

    “Questioning government’s right to fund abortions is overwhelmingly a religiously motivated movement, ironically underscoring religion’s further, and arguable, meddling in public issues. ”

    Religious groups are made up of taxpayers who are also people covered by the First Amendment. There is no justification for barring a citizen from “meddling” or debating public affairs because of the content of their belief system. That is what is you advocate with your premise. Stealing is not an acceptable practice because all of us recognize the culture would collapse if it was allowed. Thou shall not steal is also one of the Ten Commandments. I am waiting for the day when some lunatic says we have to allow stealing or we will be establishing a religion.

  13. Samuel Smith says:

    The hilarious thing about all this is that the people decrying where public monies go are also the same ones that claim that if social programs were removed, the community would step in to fill the void. Your compassion is a shining example as to why programs like welfare and planned parenthood are needed.

  14. Binkey says:

    Are religious school’s better? Are there studies that show that? I hear that claim a lot, but don’t recall seeing any studies that show it. Are religious schools required to take ANYONE no matter what circumstances they come from? I believe some of the key indicators of student probabilty of success in school are socioeconomic status and students’ parents education. I would venture a guess that parents who send their children to religious schools are overwhelmingly not of lower socioeconomic class and the parents have attended college.

    I say eliminate charter school funding, say no to funding religious schools, and return that money to the taxpayers!

  15. DWFerg says:

    I am not one to weigh in on moral or even ethical standards. However, please someone explain–How can the Government charge a murderer of a pregnant woman with TWO homicide charges(the Mother and Fetus whose heart is beating), and then somehow not consider abortion of a Fetus not murder ????? I guess because the Mother Has CHOSEN to abort makes it OK—or is it because Planned Parenthood counsels these poor souls to make their life easier….I would suggest and Support an organization that alleges to be so Helpful and Indispensible to women to counsel them BEFORE they engage in activity that could get them Pregnant–The safety net of a readily available and FREE abortion makes having Sex essentially Riskless and Provocatively Safe…How sad and despicable a premise to have the Government involved whatsoever !!!

  16. Pierre Tristam says:

    The difference, of course, is that we have a constitutional amendment prohibiting the government’s backing of any religious purpose. Last I checked we don’t have a constitutional amendment addressing the government’s role on sexual health, but we do have a Supreme Court decision rendering abortion legal, and therefore no more or less legitimate a reason for government backing than, say, the mortgage-interest home deduction that most of you enjoy. Questioning government’s right to fund abortions is overwhelmingly a religiously motivated movement, ironically underscoring religion’s further, and arguable, meddling in public issues.

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