Written by Don Byrd

This week is National School Choice Week, an annual push by school voucher advocates to promote taxpayer funding of private education, including religious education. It seems like as good of a time as any for some reminders about why school vouchers are a bad idea from a religious liberty perspective.

  1. Vouchers ask taxpayers to support indoctrination into religious views they may not agree with. Forcing taxpayers to fund a religious perspective different from their own undermines a key principle of religious liberty. We should not be required to support others’ religious views.
  2. Vouchers diminish the vitality of true religious choice. With government support, religious education becomes an attractive option for many who may not choose it otherwise. True religious liberty requires soul freedom, an act of conscience that would be weakened by a nudge from government. Government should stay out of the business of meddling in religion, either to try to help or to hinder. Religious education should have to survive on its own, and not with the aid of government funds.
  3. Vouchers jeopardize the autonomy of religious education. With government money comes government strings attached. If churches and other religious institutions choose to feed at the public trough, they often do so at the expense of their freedom to use the funds as they would like. Agreeing to follow government rules in exchange for the financial resources offered through vouchers is a bargain many religious schools would do better to pass up, as their religious mission could be compromised.

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.

During this “school choice” week, remind your social media friends and followers that school vouchers harmfully entangle the public purse with the church, to the detriment of both. On the test of religious liberty and church autonomy, vouchers fail.