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July 12, 2011


MIAMI - The American Civil Liberties Union today released a report disproving any link between anti-Catholic bias and Florida’s 125-year-old constitutional ban on taxpayer funding of religious groups and activities – a false claim repeatedly raised to justify repeal of Florida’s long-standing constitutional separation of church and state.

Commonly called the “no-aid” provision, the ban on taxpayer funding of religious institutions has been part of Florida’s constitution since 1885. It states:

…No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.

The report, "Exposing the Myth of Anti-Catholic Bias: The Fabrication of History to Repeal the Florida Constitution’s No-Aid Provision,” presents a number of findings refuting the claim that the “no-aid” provision was the product of bigotry against Catholics.

As the report makes clear, Florida’s “no-aid” provision puts all religious faiths on equal footing. The constitutional provision also protects Floridians against compelled taxpayer support of religious institutions in violation of their religious-liberty rights.

Despite the absence of evidence to support the claims of bias, legislative proponents of eliminating the “no-aid” provision repeatedly used the fabricated anti-Catholic argument during the 2011 Florida Legislative session to adopt a proposed constitutional amendment (House Joint Resolution 1471 – HJR1471) that would not only repeal the funding prohibition, but insert new language requiring taxpayers to fund religious organizations and their activities such as vouchers for church-run religious schools.

“We understand why those who support taxpayer funding of mosques, synagogues and churches want to fabricate the story of historical bias, but it’s a deception designed only to get government to fund religious organizations,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of ACLU of Florida. “The Florida legislators and others who made these claims either didn’t know the truth or ignored it. But now they have shamefully stoked fears of religious discrimination and provoked religious divisions in order to gain access to taxpayer dollars.”

Not only was the myth of “historic anti-Catholic bias” used repeatedly in support of HJR1471, the factually inaccurate anti-Catholic argument was included in the proposal itself meaning, in passing it, the Legislature approved an inaccurate re-writing of Florida history.

From HJR1471:

“WHEREAS, Florida's Blaine Amendment language was borne in an atmosphere of, and exists as a result of, anti-Catholic bigotry and animus” and

“WHEREAS, the genesis of Florida's Blaine Amendment language reflects an attempt to stifle and disrupt the constitutional rights and development of the emerging Catholic minority community in America” and

“…the people of Florida should now be given the opportunity to remove the discriminatory Blaine Amendment language, a lasting stain upon the state's history…”

HJR1471 was passed by the Florida House on a mostly partisan 81-35 vote and passed the Florida Senate on a similar 26-10 vote, just two votes more than the number required for approval. Senate leaders allowed the Joint Resolution to go directly to the Senate floor, avoiding scrutiny and debate in any committee. The governor is not required to approve constitutional amendments proposed by the legislature. The measure is scheduled for the 2012 ballot.

“Religious liberty in America means that religious institutions and their programs should be supported by the faith and generosity of parishioners, not government,” Simon said. “It is not ‘religious freedom,’ it is precisely the opposite – the proposed constitutional change takes away from each citizen the right to decide which churches, synagogues or mosques you wish to support, and it gives that power to the state, allowing the state to take your money and decide for you.”

Among the historical evidence cited in the study refuting the claim of anti-Catholicism is The Catholic Encyclopedia – the first English-language encyclopedia written from a Catholic point of view. Published in 1909, The Catholic Encyclopedia analyzes the “no-aid” provision at length without once implying that the measure was born out of bigotry. Rather, the Encyclopedia concluded its survey of Florida law by observing that “the attitude of both bench and bar in the State has in these matters been ever above suspicion of anti-Catholic bias or partiality.”

The report also notes that, consistent with the Catholic Encyclopedia’s analysis, the text of the “no-aid” provision clearly lacks bias against any specific religion. Instead, the provision protects the rights of all Floridians by barring aid to “any” religious institutions.

Even the current sponsors acknowledge that the “no- aid” provision is being enforced equally among “all denominations” today. The text of the repeal proposal (HJR1471) itself makes this point clear when it reads:

“WHEREAS, Florida's Blaine Amendment is currently being enforced against religious groups and organizations of all denominations”

“Tying Florida’s longstanding ban on taxpayer-funded religion to some supposed historic bias may be politically useful, but it’s simply not supported by the evidence,” said Daniel Mach, Director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “The history in Florida belies this contrived charge.”

The ACLU report clearly demonstrates that Florida’s “no-aid” provision was not only free from religious bias when it was drafted and approved by voters in 1885, but even if the provision was rooted in some unknown or unseen bias, it has been “washed clean” by repeated modern reviews, edits and approvals.

Florida’s constitutional provision requiring separation of church and state was reviewed, edited and ratified by voters in a new Constitution in 1968 and retained by citizen review committees in 1977 and 1997.

The modern review and approvals were not only free from Catholic bias themselves but accusations of anti-Catholic bias related to the history of the “no-aid” provision were not raised during any of these reviews. At no time during the original drafting or in subsequent reviews and ratifications did anyone – including Catholic or Church leaders – suggest that the provision was aimed at Catholics.

Most recently, the “no-aid” section of Florida’s Constitution was used by the District Court of Appeal to strike down Florida’s repeated attempts to create taxpayer funded “vouchers” for church-run schools. As cited in the ACLU report, even in the voucher context, a connection to bias in the “no-aid” provision was discredited. The First District Court of Appeal found in Bush v Holmes (2004), “nothing in the history or text of the Florida no-aid provision suggests animus towards religion.”

“History shows quite clearly that the claimed link between anti-Catholic bias and Florida’s ban on funding of churches is a contemporary fabrication,” ACLU Executive Director Simon added. “It’s baseless, but divisive political rhetoric used to justify a radical agenda – that all taxpayers should be required to fund mosques, churches and synagogues.”

The report concludes that the unsupported charge of anti-Catholic bias is meant to distract legislators and the public from the true aim of repeal proponents – to secure taxpayer support for religious institutions and their programs.

“After the issuance of this report, legislators and others who have supported the radical repeal of the no-aid provision based on its purported anti-Catholic ties can no longer turn a blind eye to the truth,” Simon said. “The honest thing to do now is to admit that this bogus history cannot justify undoing 125 years of constitutional protections barring compelled taxpayer funding of religion.”

A copy of report is here: 

A separate, fact sheet of the findings is here: