Rabbi Merrill Shapiro of First Congregation Sons of Israel in St Augustine told Historic City News that he is not happy with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s announced rewrite of proposed Amendment 7 — scheduled for the November ballot.
Shapiro is the lead plaintiff in the Shapiro v. Browning lawsuit filed in state court. He, members of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and additional co-plaintiffs, are challenging what they call the amendment’s “deceptive wording”.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group that was founded in 1947 and is based in Washington, D.C. In order to safeguard religious freedom, the organization educates Americans about the importance of the separation of church and state.
“The Florida Constitution, as it now stands, ensures our right to contribute our hard-earned money only to the religious institutions of our free choice,” Shapiro told Historic City News. “Amendment 7 takes away that right and allows the politicians in Tallahassee to make that decision for us.”
Amendment 7 would repeal provisions in the state constitution that prohibit the use of public funds for religious institutions — yet the language of the ballot measure does not make that fact clear.
Judge Terry P. Lewis of the Second Judicial Circuit Court of Leon County agreed that the measure, as titled, was “misleading” in rendering his December 13th decision. He allowed the Attorney General to rewrite it. Bondi’s new version was announced Wednesday.
“This amendment is not about religious freedom,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It’s about forcing all Florida taxpayers to subsidize houses of worship, religious schools and other ministries — whether they want to or not.”
Some legal experts say the measure actually requires the government to fund religious institutions.
“It’s imperative that voters know what’s at stake here,” Shapiro said. “The legislature is trying to pull a fast one, and Floridians need to know it.”
In addition to Shapiro, other clergy who joined the lawsuit include the Rev. Harry Parrott of Clay County, who is a retired Baptist minister; the Rev. Harold Brockus of St. Petersburg, a retired pastor of a Pinellas Park congregation affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ; the Rev. Kent Siladi of Rockledge, who is the Conference Minister for the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ; Rabbi Jack Romberg of Temple Israel in Tallahassee; and the Rev. Bobby Musengwa, who is pastor of Maximo Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg.
Leaders in the Florida Education Association, Florida School Boards Association and Florida Association of School Administrators are also serving as plaintiffs.
Several organizations joined with Americans United in filing the lawsuit, including the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, the ACLU Foundation of Florida, the Anti-Defamation League, the Florida Education Association and the National Education Association.