The Enlightenment Case for Vouchers

19 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2001


In this essay I argue that a system of vouchers better realizes the principles of the Framers in today's world than our current system, where all publicly funded primary and secondary schools are publicly controlled. The religion clauses of the Constitution are designed to allow citizens to express their values and opinions through their own religious choices, free from interference by the government. Empowering individuals to choose a school that reflects their values, religious or otherwise, better preserves such freedom than coercing individuals to pay twice for education - once for a government school that they reject and once for a private school that acts consistently with their values. My argument moves in three stages. First, I very briefly sketch some of the Framers' principles of religious freedom. Then through a series of hypotheticals I show that a voucher program can achieve all the legitimate goals for government involvement in education, such as providing equal opportunity. In contrast, I show that opposition to vouchers can be traced to educational goals that are in tension with the Framers' views, such as those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau thought that the state must exercise substantial control over the ideological content of education in the name of equality and democracy. Such goals necessarily subordinate the liberty of opinion that the religion clauses were designed to protect.

Suggested Citation

McGinnis, John, The Enlightenment Case for Vouchers. Available at SSRN: or

John McGinnis (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-3235 (Phone)

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