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Flouting the First:
Florida’s Slouch Back To Religious Favoritism

| January 16, 2012

Got nerve? (Josh Kenzer)

It’s not been a good new year for religious freedom in the Florida Legislature. A bill that would authorize school boards to allow prayers at sports games, graduations and other such events where attendance is ostensibly voluntary is moving forward in the Senate. And a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it easier for state government to fund religious organizations is back on the ballot as Amendment 8, after its earlier version as Amendment 7 was tossed out by a court.

Pierre Tristam FlaglerLive editor

Pierre Tristam

The Live Column

You’d think Florida was under siege by heathens intent on forbidding any form of religious expression or government spending on faith-based organizations. You’d be wrong.

Prayer in public school was never banned. You can pray to whatever god you choose. So can I. You can do so whenever and however you wish, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the day’s formalities. A look inside any Florida public school is a revelation of religious identity, if not overt expression, as a mirror of society at large: students, teachers and employees wear their faith on their sleeve (or scalp), sometimes literally in the case of Muslim girls required to cover their head, sometimes a bit unsubtly in the case of teachers or administrators who prop their Bible on their desk—as they would not dare their Koran or their Wiccan symbols—with polemical prominence.

What’s not allowed is for anyone in authority at school to lead a prayer, or for a prayer to be a group event that makes it difficult for anyone who doesn’t want to participate not to stand out. Religion should not be a cudgel or an imposition, on anyone, though local governments still find ways to flout that protection: Bunnell’s city commission recently resolved to start its meetings with a Christian prayer, usually delivered by one or two of its own commissioners, with this advice from a third: “If this is going to offend anybody, you can wait outside until we’re finished.” Not quite the sort of neutrality the U.S. Supreme Court had in mind when it warned against confusing majority consent with using “the machinery of the state to practice its beliefs.”

There’s no ban on government spending on religious concerns, either. Federal and state governments channel money to faith-based organizations by the billions. But they do so under the same rules that secular organizations must follow. The money cannot be used to discriminate. Government money will go to a religious college that ensures all constitutional protections for students. It won’t go to a college where, for example, women are not allowed to play sports on an equal basis as men. Christian organizations that run foster services routinely get government money, though in Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., the Catholic Church pulled out of running such organizations because it didn’t want to follow a federal requirement that the church not discriminate against gay foster parents. Some people think the church should have every right to freely exercise its bigotry. It does. But not on taxpayers’ dime.

That’s the problem with Amendment 8. It would not open the way for state funding of religious organizations. That’s already happening. Rather, it would essentially deregulate the money, forbidding the state from ensuring that the money isn’t subsidizing discrimination, bigotry and favoritism. That’s not religious freedom. It’s not even government sponsorship of religion. It’s plain and simple irresponsible, unaccountable use of taxpayer dollars.

Conservatives should be screaming bloody constitutional murder. Instead, they’re the amendment’s biggest fans. No surprise, really. St. Matthew’s admonition against in-your-face piety notwithstanding, there’s never been a wall separating the public embrace of religion from hypocrisy.

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6 Responses for “Flouting the First:
Florida’s Slouch Back To Religious Favoritism”

  1. They still believe theres a invisible man in the sky lol

  2. Angela Smith via Facebook says:

    Keep religion out of the schools, or allow science in the churches.

  3. Lori Cooke-Young via Facebook says:

    Just another reason to look in to home schooling, or virtual schooling.

  4. Just the Facts says:

    Real science proves the existence of a Creator. God is not an invisible man in the sky, but shows His presence in all the earth. Pride and ignorance lead mankind to to fight against their conscience and attempt to remove the possibility of a Creator. Wherever the true gospel of Christ has been shared, the outcome is a changed, moral and civilized society. The absence of God leads to, well, what you see in the news everyday: greater divorce, violence, crime, perversion ect. I know, “more people have died in the name of religion than anything else” check your facts- more people have died in war over money and greed, alliances and desire for power, than anything else-not the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thanks for some clarity Pierre, honestly I don’t believe any Christian organization (or other Faith group) should receive money from the government at the “tax payers’ dime” -period.

    • Reinhold Schlieper says:

      Oh, how misguided! REAL science never proves anything at all. It moves by hypothesis that is either corroborated or falsified. The notion, for example, that one can produce gold from a chemical concoction was shown wrong when Berthold Schwarz blew off his leg with his accidentally found “Schwarzpulver” (Blackpowder). I don’t think that he repeated the experiment for the other leg, as far as I know. So, scientific progress is experimentation that looks for falsifying instances, reformulates the hypothesis, and looks again for falsification. Corroboration increases the probability of truth, but it can never establish unshakable truth. Religion, on the other hand, works without evidence whatsoever and claims unshakable truths. If religion were to use sane processes, it would have been falsified long ago. But folks do pad their religious theories. JC was not to blame for the Thirty-Year War; the blame goes to some of the idiots who didn’t understand him. In fact, other than me alone, nobody really does understand JC. So as long as anyone does anything in the name of religion without getting my approval, we cannot ever increase the probability that religion screws things up. But that also takes religion out of the sane thinker’s universe of discourse.

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