Give us that old-time religious freedom 

One is reluctant to write about Florida's proposed Amendment 8 for fear of stirring up the Arkansas Family Council, always eager to import bad ideas. But the defeat of Amendment 8 calls for recognition.

A wise man has observed that this year's presidential race between President Obama and Mitt Romney was "very much an election pitting the interests of the very rich against those of the middle class and the poor." The Amendment 8 contest in Florida very much pitted the supporters of religious freedom against those who seek to force their own religious beliefs on others. The freedom faction prevailed. Hallelujah.

Amendment 8 was backed by a coalition of the fundamentalist Religious Right, the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and prominent members of the Republican Party, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, already being mentioned as a Republican presidential candidate in 2016. (The temptation to call this an "unholy alliance" is very strong. We're glad we resisted.) Amendment 8 would have stripped the Florida Constitution of the provisions, similar to those in the U.S. Constitution, that protect the individual's right to choose his own religion, or no religion at all. The amendment would have allowed houses of worship, religious schools and other ministries to lay their hands on taxpayers' money. One of its main purposes was to clear the way for taxpayer-funded vouchers at church schools, thus enabling atheists to help pay for Catholic indoctrination, and Jews to subsidize Baptist proselytism.

A champion of public schools open to all students, the Florida Education Association was a leading opponent of Amendment 8. The schoolteachers were joined by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Anti-Defamation League and the ACLU, among others. Large numbers of clergy spoke out against the amendment, correctly identifying it as a threat to religious liberty. The largest newspapers in the state opposed the amendment too. (Could Arkansas count on that?)

And so religious discrimination was rejected, by 57 percent of Florida voters. Barry Lynn of Americans United said afterward "The defeat of Amendment 8 will ensure that no Floridian has to financially support any belief system that he or she does not subscribe to." The founders of this country intended that no American should have to financially support a belief system not his own. That includes Arkansans, but we need to stay alert.



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