Court: Voters to decide discrimination against churches

FROM WND

‘Florida constitution now prevents religious groups from taking part in public programs’

A court has ruled that if a discrimination plan is going to remain in the Florida state constitution, voters will be the ones to decide.

The ruling today comes from Circuit Judge John C. Cooper, who found that voters have a right to decide whether they want to retain those provisions, or whether they want to excise them.

“It’s wrong to deny funding for non-religious purposes to non-profit groups or individuals simply because they are religious,” said Joe Infranco, a senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund.

Attorneys working with the organization represented five religious charities in the state that had joined in defense of the plan submitted by the state Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which periodically reviews tax laws.

It proposed two ballot initiatives this November that would repeal a constitutional provision barring individuals and other entities from participating in public programs solely because of their religious nature. A second proposal would amend the state constitution to allow limited state support for private education costs.

The American Civil Liberties Union had sued to prevent voters from being allowed to decide those issues.

“The constitutional provision addressed by Ballot Initiative 7 is the prohibition against the public funding of religious and sectarian institutions in Article 1, section 3. Plaintiffs fail to explain persuasively why Ballot Initiative 7’s elimination of this barrier to state budgetary expenditures for religious-affiliated programs, thereby allowing them to be eligible for educational services, public contracting, and procurement matters, is not a matter of the state’s budgetary process,” the judge wrote.

The ADF represented the Florida Catholic Conference, Mercy Hospital, Friends of Lubavitch Florida, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami and the Association of Christian Schools International in the case.

“Florida reaps great benefit from religious charities that serve the poorest of society,” said Florida Catholic Conference Executive Director Michael McCarron. “Florida’s constitution should not discriminate against religious groups when it comes to such funding, which is not used for religious purposes and greatly benefits communities.”

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