As members of the clergy, we urge voters to vote no on Amendment 8, the so-called "Religious Freedom Amendment." This unwise amendment would radically change the Florida Constitution to allow broad government funding of religion. We think this would be a disaster for our state.
We need to understand just how sweeping the changes embedded in Amendment 8 would be if approved. The existing Constitution explicitly bars the state from allowing public money to go "directly or indirectly" toward any church or sectarian institution. Repealing it would mean Floridians would lose this muscular church-state protection — a protection far stronger than that under the federal Establishment Clause.
On top of that, Amendment 8 would impose an affirmative duty on government to provide public money and benefits to religion to the extent the U.S. Constitution allows. That means taxpayer money would have to go to churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious institutions, including church-affiliated schools, in a host of circumstances.
At present, houses of worship rely on donations from their members for support. If Amendment 8 passes, religious institutions could instead turn to the government for funding.
Suddenly, churches and other religious communities would be competing with each other for government handouts. This is bound to be divisive and destructive of the goodwill that currently exists among faith groups.
And with government funding, government control is sure to follow. Do we really want government officials making decisions about which religious groups get public funds and how that money is spent?
The backers of Amendment 8 contend its primary purpose is to allow religiously affiliated hospitals and charitable organizations to receive state money. But these nonprofit organizations and charities already receive plenty of state money, from Medicaid to government contracts for social services, and that cash flow is not being threatened. Their religious affiliation is fine as long as they do secular work.
Houses of worship of all sorts have thrived in Florida through the generous contributions of the people in our pews. It would be incredibly shortsighted to scrap constitutional safeguards that keep the institutions of religion and government separate and free.
We urge voters to take a careful look at Amendment 8 and cast your ballots against it.
Rabbi Michael Torop, Temple Beth-El; the Rev. Kathleen Korb, Unitarian Universalist Church, St. Petersburg
A bishop's curious double standard Oct. 23, John Romano column
If you choose, you pay
Kudos to John Romano's column on public support for religious education.
I recall a situation, many years ago in another state, when my widowed mother of 10 took a similar unpopular stand in our very Catholic neighborhood.
With seven school-age kids in Catholic schools, she said: "If I choose Catholic education I should pay for it. The government doesn't owe me for making that choice."
I've never been more proud.
Timothy Shea, St. Petersburg
Religions have public duty
John Romano argues that the Catholic Church uses a double standard in dealing with government issues. Romano's argument, however, is based upon a faulty premise. Romano states that separation of church and state means "the government should not intrude on anyone's religious beliefs, and religions should not seek to interfere with the business of the government."
The First Amendment was in fact created to ensure that government never interfered with the religious belief of individuals or established an official religion. It was not created to keep religions out of the business of government. Religions not only have a duty but a moral responsibility to stay involved.
John Jewett, Largo
He stopped the skid
I get tired of hearing what some feel President Barack Obama didn't do. Think of what he did do. The country was in a downhill slide. He stopped the skid, stabilized the situation, and then initiated changes to reverse the slide and improve the economy and country.
So it didn't change as fast or as much as some would like. Who knows what would have happened if it weren't for Obama? I think Bill Clinton summed it up well. He stated Obama stopped the skid, built a platform under it and started to rebuild.
Let's remember: What he did was without the help of Republicans who were more concerned with defeating Obama's second term than they were with helping the country.
Robert Petrosky, Spring Hill
Indicators pointing down
After spending $6 trillion more than we have taken in over the last four years, what do we have?
The housing market is clearly not fixed. People cannot get home or business loans. GDP growth is slowing. The unemployment rate is going down slightly because those who have given up looking for work are no longer counted. Our credit rating was downgraded for the first time in history. Household income is down $4,200. The job market hopeless and the Middle East is in turmoil.
Doug Pennoyer, St. Petersburg
Our country is on the edge of economic collapse, thanks to our $16 trillion debt caused mainly by the Obama administration. If President Barack Obama is re-elected and Obamacare is not repealed, we will be Greece within four years.
Doug Stuart, Lutz
A war of words on America's role | Oct. 23
Hats off to Bob Schieffer for being the best debate moderator. The consummate news veteran is professional, intelligent and did an excellent job in moderating the debate. Because of his efforts and the performances of the candidates, it was very compelling TV.
Jeff Cutting, Brandon
Navy is vital protection
President Barack Obama's comments indicating that we do not need a sizable Navy are wrong.
First, most goods are shipped across oceans, so it is wise to have a strong Navy to product commercial shipping. The Navy will be needed in the event that Iran attempts to interfere with oil shipments from the Middle East.
The Chinese are building many ships, including aircraft carriers. If we are to be ready for looming threats, we need considerable power at sea.
Michael Dalton, Clearwater
Look at his record | Oct. 24, letter
A letter writer believes that a "successful" businessman would do a better job as president of the United States. By that rationale, Rick Scott should be Governor of the Decade.
Although leadership qualities are important, having a history of leading a business does not translate into political success. Corporations' goals are to increase profits; government is about providing service.
The problem occurs when politicians put themselves above their constituents and pass out favors and contracts to their cronies that include bribes, kickbacks and promises of future employment for themselves and/or their families.
Brent Burcham, Valrico
Early voting, later start | Oct. 24
Voters have been able to vote early in person at three locations in Pinellas and other counties by completing absentee ballots since Oct. 1, but the Times has had almost zero reporting on this. Voters need to be aware of this "in-person absentee" method of voting.
Howard Taylor, St. Petersburg
Rubio's stance on Cuba hurts Florida Oct. 25, editorial
Policy only helps Castros
Your excellent editorial on Sen. Marco Rubio's consistent Draconian posture on Cuba covers only one aspect of this man's counterproductive politics.
Beyond the harm he does to Florida business, academics and people-to-people contacts, this policy in fact helps to maintain the Fidel/Raul Castro regime in power. In defiance of all the lessons of engagement and of challenging tyranny with openness that ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet system and its communist satellites, this man and a handful of close-minded souls continue to isolate and insulate the Castro regime from the corrosive forces of democracy.
In essence, Rubio and his ilk have constructed an "alternate Berlin Wall" for the Castros. Rather than ending with a prime role in Republican politics, he should be having the Order of Lenin pinned on his chest by Fidel himself.
Tony Gonzalez, Weeki Wachee