Americans should have the right to believe (or not believe ) in God as the individual's right of conscience dictates. The government cannot compel anyone to attend, or refrain from attending, a religious service. In most cases, religious groups must abide by the secular law, although limited exemptions may be carved out in some cases. As advocates for religious freedom, we stand for the right of everyone to believe or not believe, but no one's religion should be an excuse to do harm to others.
PROTECT THY NEIGHBOR is Americans United's campaign to prevent the use of religion to discriminate against and otherwise cause harm to individuals.
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Some members of Congress are trying to weaken or repeal the Johnson Amendment, which bars pulpit politicking. Americans United's Federal Legislative Counsel Elise Helgesen Aguilar explains.
Letter from AU to the Florida Legislature
February 22, 2016
Senator Andy Gardiner
409, The Capitol
404 S. Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100
Re: SB 110 – Allowing for Discrimination Against All Floridians Who Wish to Marry
Dear Senator Gardiner:
On behalf of its Florida members and supporters, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, urges you to oppose SB 110. We agree that the state should not and, under the First Amendment, may not force clergy, houses of worship, and similar religious organizations to perform or host marriage ceremonies with which they have religious objections. Indeed, the First Amendment already allows, for example, a rabbi to refuse to marry an interfaith couple or a priest to refuse to solemnize a marriage for a divorced person. Unfortunately, SB 110 goes well beyond the rights already provided in the First Amendment and would permit organizations that operate a place of public accommodation to discriminate against Floridians.
Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value. It means that we are all free to believe or not as we see fit, but it does not mean that entities providing public accommodations can use their religion as a justification for denying the rights of others. Yet, this bill would allow organizations that are operated in connection to a religious organization to refuse to provide any marriage related services even if they are operating a place of public accommodation.
There are clear differences between a house of worship that hosts the weddings of its members and wants keep it that way and a religious organization that runs a commercial wedding hall that is open to the public to make money. In fact, the Florida Civil Rights Act already provides religious institutions with a broad exemption with respect to public accommodations.1
SB 110 would allow, for example, a religiously-affiliated university or other religious organization, including a commercial wedding chapel, that rents a banquet hall or chapel to the general public for weddings, to refuse services on religious grounds to a couple because they are
1 See Fla. Stat. §760.10(9) “This section shall not apply to any religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society which conditions opportunities in the area of employment or public accommodation to members of that religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society or to persons who subscribe to its tenets or beliefs. “
same sex, interfaith, previously divorced or of a particular faith. It is unfair to allow a commercial enterprise to reap the rewards of its business but then escape the nondiscrimination requirements placed on all other commercial businesses simply because it claims a religious affiliation.
The Florida legislature should not pass legislation that allows entities that operate a place of public accommodation to discriminate. For the reasons discussed, we urge you to oppose SB 110. Thank you for your consideration on this important matter.
State Legislative Counsel
Public Funds for Religious Instruction?
The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship channels tax payer dollars (perhaps $500 million next year) to religious schools, despite the prohibition in Article 1 of the Florida Constitution to do so. Is that OK? Well, in the 2012 election, a referendum item labeled Amendment 8 asked that very question – should public dollars be used for religious activities. The answer was a resounding and emphatic NO. The Florida Supreme Court also said NO. In 2006, it struck down the similar Opportunity Scholarship Program under Article IX of the Florida Constitution and left alone a lower court ruling that it also violated Article 1. The current Florida Tax Credit Scholarship simply relies on a different mechanism for channeling tax payer dollars to religious schools.
The Florida School Boards Association, the Florida Congress of Parents and Teachers (PTA), the Florida Education Association, the Florida Association of School Administrators, the League of Women Voters of Florida, The Florida State Conference of Branches of the NAACP, a large number of Florida residents and “friends of the Court” oppose it. Just like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
So the Florida voters said NO in 2012 and the Florida Supreme Court said NO in 2006. No public funds to support religious instruction! Keep Church and State separate! If you agree, follow and friend us on Facebook (AU-Naples) and visit our website (www.au-naples.org). You might even want to join.
AU-Naples Chapter treasurer Bill Korson's Letter to the Editor of the NDN.
PUBLIC FUNDS FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS
According to a recent article in the MIAMI HERALD, Republican lawmakers in the Florida legislature “passed – as part of a massive “school choice” bill – a provision that will let . . . individual school board members . . . direct their dues to a new advocacy organization,” the Florida Coalition of School Board members. “The impetus (for the creation of this group) was the FSBA (Florida School Boards Association) previous participation in a lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship — a voucher-like program that helps poor children attend private school by giving tax breaks to businesses.” This program indirectly channels almost $500 million of PUBLIC funds to PRIVATE and/or RELIGIOUS schools. In fact, almost 80% goes to RELIGIOUS schools, a clear violation of the Florida State Constitution.
“Gov. Rick Scott has yet to sign the school choice bill … but in the interim, the (new) coalition will definitely receive ... $200,000 in state funding … thanks to a line-item secured in the 2016-17 budget. The money will help the (new) coalition set up virtual training for school board members, a version of which the FSBA already offers …”
According to the article, the “Florida Tax Watch said that lack of scrutiny should have merited a line-item veto…”
Two of our elected Collier County PUBLIC school board members support this new group and also support Tax-Credit Scholarships. I urge all Collier citizens to write to Ms. Donalds (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Ms. Lichter (email@example.com) and tell them that they should support policies and organizations that support PUBLIC schools, NOT PRIVATE and/or RELIGIOUS schools.
COLLIER SCHOOL BOARD REJECTS INVOCATION.
Thanks to YOUR wonderful support, the Collier County School Board, at their November organizational meeting, voted 3-2 to reject beginning their meeting with an invocation and voted to continue beginning with a moment of silence. Despite having overwhelming speaker support against the invocation, Ms. Donalds and Ms. Lichter still voted for the invocation. Please continue to follow school board votes. The emails of the school board members are listed below: