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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Florida Teachers Union Files Suit

TALLAHASSEE, FL - Individuals and groups representing Florida's public schools and some religious communities have filed a lawsuit in state Circuit Court (2011-CA-1892) in Tallahassee. They are challenging a constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by the Florida Legislature. Amendment Seven would substantially alter the constitution's no-aid provision, which has been in effect for more than 125 years. This provision (in Article 1, Section 3) protects the religious freedom rights of all Floridians by barring taxpayer-funded aid to religious institutions.

The proposed amendment, if approved by voters, would gut that protection, according to Florida Education Association (FEA) President Andy Ford.

"If Amendment Seven were to pass, it could open the flood gates for any school of any type to try and get state funding, at the expense of the public schools."

The lawsuit points out that voters throughout the nation have repeatedly rejected voucher initiatives. Plaintiffs claim the leadership of the legislature realized this, so they approved an amendment with the ballot title, "Religious Freedom," which plaintiffs say twists the measure's actual meaning.

The amendment's supporters say vouchers would improve the quality of schools across the state.

Co-plaintiff Rabbi Merrill Shapiro of Temple Shalom, Deltona, claims the proposed amendment is an effort by legislative wolves to wrap an unconstitutional issue in sheep's clothing.

"Our lawsuit is based on Article 3 of our Florida Constitution, which says you can't write a check from the state to a Christian college."

Among others joining the FEA in the legal action are the president of the Florida School Boards Association, the president of the Florida Association of School Administrators, the conference minister for the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ and a retired Baptist minister from Clay County.

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