Council for Secular Humanism Celebrates Another Court Victory in Florida

April 29, 2010

This week the Florida First District Court of Appeal issued an important decision in Council for Secular Humanism v. McNeil , setting the stage for a likely battle in the state Supreme Court. In their ruling, the appellate court called upon the state Supreme Court to decide whether Florida's constitution bars the state from contracting with sectarian entities for social services, an issue the appellate court described as a "question of great importance."

The Council, along with co-plaintiffs Richard and Elaine Hull, initially filed suit in Leon County Circuit Court in May 2007 challenging the legality of a state law permitting government payments to faith-based organizations for social services. The Council based its challenge on the Florida Constitution, which includes a "No-Aid" provision mandating that no revenue of the state be provided "directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution."  The Council's case could have an influence in many states, as more than half the states have no-aid provisions similar to Florida's in their constitutions.

As reported in my previous posts, the Council won an important victory on December 15, 2009 when the District Court of Appeal reversed a lower court ruling that dismissed the Council's lawsuit entirely. One day before New Year's Eve the defendants filed a motion to have their appeal heard before the entire bench of appellate judges. This latest ruling has denied their request and certified to the justices on the Florida Supreme Court the question of whether "the No-Aid provision in Article I, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution prohibits the state from contracting for the provision of necessary social services by religious or sectarian entities?" Whether the Supreme Court accepts the case is purely within its discretion.