Two rabbis join suit against ballot question on religious funding

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Two Florida rabbis are part of a lawsuit opposing a state referendum question on whether to fund religious institutions.

The referendum question, approved earlier this year by the Florida legislature to be voted on in the November 2012 election, is entitled "Religious Freedom" and proposes an amendment to the state constitution that would be "consistent with the U.S. constitution" and would allow funding for religious institutions.

The lawsuit, filed July 20, includes among its plaintiffs Rabbi Jack Romberg of Tallahassee and Rabbi Merrill Shapiro of Palm Coast, as well as a number of state school officials and Christian clergy members.

The Anti-Defamation League is one of several organizations that will counsel the plaintiffs in their suit in a state circuit court.

The plaintiffs allege that the ballot measure as written is misleading in that the proposed amendment does not support "religious freedom," does not comport with the U.S. Constitution and in fact compels funding of religious institutions in some cases.

The ballot question was approved as part of a campaign to repeal an amendment to the Florida constitution that bans funding of religious institutions.

Similar amendments were passed in most U.S. states in the late 19th century. They are known as "Blaine Amendments" for their chief sponsor, James Blaine, a Republican congressman from Maine.

Supporters of repealing the Blaine amendments say that they were passed as part of anti-Catholic fervor at the time; this was true of some of supporters, although Blaine himself was known primarily as a church-state separation advocate.

The Orthodox Union is among the groups that have supported the Florida Blaine amendment’s repeal.

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