Written by Don Byrd
Every year at about this time, school voucher proponents promote their cause during National School Choice Week, which is going on right now. Fortunately, School Choice Week gives me a great opportunity to remind everyone why school vouchers are strongly opposed by religious liberty advocates like the Baptist Joint Committee.
Yes, “choice” sounds like it is associated with “freedom,” but by funneling government funds to religious schools, vouchers actually undermine the religious freedom of both the taxpayer and the religious institution receiving the payment.
Not only do vouchers force taxpayers to support religious education they might disagree with, they also threaten religious autonomy by attaching government regulations that may compromise the religious mission of the school. Once dependent on voucher funds for its success, a church-based school can be even further pushed toward gaining favor with government regulators.
In other words, government neutrality toward religion is good for the state and good for religion.
The Baptist Joint Committee has long opposed school vouchers for just that reason. As the BJC’s Holly Hollman wrote in a 2011 column, “[r]eligious teachings should be funded by voluntary contributions, not through compulsory taxation.” That arrangement protects the conscience of taxpayers and the integrity of religious school alike.
Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that school voucher programs do not in themselves violate the separation of church and state. But the law in many states imposes an even higher standard of church-state separation on the use of taxpayer funds. The BJC has successfully opposed efforts to initiate voucher programs in states where taxpayer aid to religion is outlawed.
However, even where school vouchers are legal, that does not mean they are a good idea, or that they further the cause of religious liberty. Exactly the opposite is true. Our commitment to religious liberty for all should mean more than that we do the bare minimum the law requires. School vouchers invariably, and needlessly, entangle the public purse with the church, to the detriment of both. On the test of religious liberty and church autonomy, vouchers fail.
For more, see “Why Faith Leaders Oppose Vouchers,” from the National Coalition for Public Education, of which the Baptist Joint Committee is a member.