Tax Credits–and Not Vouchers–for Education

by | Aug 24, 2004

The New York Sun has wisely opposed campaign finance regulations as violating the freedom of speech. The Sun has also argued that New York City’s public campaign financing system deserves to be scrapped. Wasn’t it Thomas Jefferson who wrote “that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which […]

The New York Sun has wisely opposed campaign finance regulations as violating the freedom of speech. The Sun has also argued that New York City’s public campaign financing system deserves to be scrapped.

Wasn’t it Thomas Jefferson who wrote “that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical”?

Jefferson’s words, in the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia–the precursor to the religion clauses of the First Amendment–“enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.” Why, then, does the Sun favor compelling atheists to support the propagation of Judaism, or Jews to finance the propagation of Christianity? This is exactly what providing school vouchers to religious schools would do, and what the Blaine Amendments prohibit [“Blaine in Florida,” Tuesday, August 17, 2004].

The Sun can claim that the Constitution “wasn’t meant to exclude all religion from public life,” but such arguments carry little weight when its answer to state constitutions that do make such a prohibition, is to change those constitutions. The fundamental issue is what principles the Constitution should uphold.

If most Americans were atheists, would the Sun advocate taxing believers in order to finance schools that promoted atheism? Do men acquire the right to sacrifice a minority’s conscience just because they happen to be more numerous?

To say that public financing of religion is permissible if “religiously neutral” is an evasion. Strict religious neutrality would require each person’s religious beliefs to receive as much support as he would have voluntarily contributed, which would make government financing unnecessary. The only reason for public subsidies is to coerce people to finance religious institutions they would not have supported voluntarily–and this, I submit, is a tyrannical motive.

People should be free to use their own money to educate their children in whatever beliefs they deem appropriate. The use of tax credits is an entirely appropriate way to allow them to retain more of their own money for this purpose. The use of vouchers–subsidies extracted from others by force–is not.

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Paul Blair is former editor of The Intellectual Activist.

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