Groups won’t challenge Bondi’s rewrite of ‘Religious Freedom’ amendment
The Associated Press is reporting that the groups who have been challenging a legislatively created measure set to appear on the 2012 ballot are not going to challenge the court-ordered rewrite that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi submitted late last month.
The amendment, if passed, would allow the state to directly fund religious institutions.
A coalition of educators, religious leaders and civil liberties advocates filed a challenge to the amendment last July. They claim the amendment, which was presented as a “Religious Freedom” measure, was passed for other reasons — mostly to open up greater public funding for private schools.
Bondi was ordered by Leon County judge Terry Lewis to rewrite part of the amendment that said it would make state law “consistent with” the First Amendment and its prohibition against the state establishing a religion and infringing upon an individual’s “free exercise” of a religion. Bondi rewrote the amendment to say “required by,” instead of “consistent with” — as suggested by the judge.
Although groups who have been challenging the ballot measure still believe it is misleading, they are saying they will not challenge the rewrite.
A lawyer for education groups and clergy members said on Tuesday that it would be non-productive to challenge Bondi’s fix.
Attorney Ron Meyer said that’s because Bondi’s rewrite is identical to one the judge had suggested.
But groups are still on the fence about whether to continue to challenge a provision in the elections bill that required Bondi to rewrite the amendment in the first place. Prior to that, it was the state Legislature’s responsibility to rewrite a challenged ballot measure.
As The Florida Independent previously reported, Florida GOP legislators slipped little-noticed rules into last year’s elections bill that made it harder to challenge the language of a ballot measure. One provision created stricter time limits for challenging ballot measures, as well as shifting responsibilities away from the Legislature. It allows the attorney general to rewrite an amendment’s ballot title or summary if it is successfully challenged in court.
Ron Meyer, the attorney who filed the legal challenge to the provision, said the measure “violates separation of powers.” He argued that by passing the law, the Legislature gave responsibility that is “purely a legislative matter” to the executive branch.
However, the judge upheld the new rule.
The AP reports that “Meyer said his clients, though, haven’t yet decided whether to appeal another decision by Lewis.”