Should churches, religious schools get tax dollars?
Photo: Video by fox4now.com
NORTH FORT MYERS - Should your tax dollars fund churches, synagogues and mosques?
In November, voters will make a decision on Amendment 8, a ballot initiative known as the "Religious Freedom Amendment."
The amendment would rewrite the state's constitution opening the doors for places of worship, and religious schools, to receive taxpayer funding.
At Temple Christian School in North Fort Myers, executive director Pastor Kenneth Griffith says he supports the ballot initiative if there are no strings attached.
"If the state of Florida gave us money to build a school with," said Griffith, "but said you can no longer teach Bible I don't want the money."
He says he'd like to see tax dollars go towards a voucher program, saying it's unfair parents at Temple Christian have to pay taxes that fund public schools their kids don't even attend.
"If we're going to pay for public education," said Griffith, "why don't we simply give the parents a choice?"
A choice of giving their tax dollars to private religious schools.
It's a hot-button issue that is already heating up the air waves.
"As Americans we believe in the separation of church and state," an announce says in a radio ad by the group Vote No on 8, "not taxpayer funding for religion and religious schools."
That's the position held by the Lee County Teachers' Union, which opposes the amendment.
"Not just schools, any type of program that any religion wants to put together, can get public tax dollars," said the union's executive director Donna Mutzenard. "They're not accountable. They don't take the FCAT."
Because of that, Mutzenard says, religious schools are not on an even playing field and feels the amendment is vague and lacks accountability about how the money would be spent.
"There is nothing in the law that provides any guidelines," said Mutzenard, "for how that money can be used."
Griffith says his school is accountable to parents.
Gov. Jeb Bush's taxpayer funded voucher program was struck down as unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006.
Voters will decide whether religious institutions should be able to receive tax dollars on Nov. 8
Text of ballot initiative
"Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution providing that no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding, or other support, except as required by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and deleting the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."