Imagine if you lived in a society in which the state controlled religion in the same way that it currently controls education. Imagine that this has been going on for more than a century.
Each locality is divided into church districts. Parents are required by law to send their children to a state-run church within the district in which they reside. Some of the wealthier parents send their children to private churches, all of which must be licensed by the state.
The local church district provides the particular religious doctrines that will be taught. All the church teachers are government employees, just as they are today with school teachers.
The state government provides the religion guidelines and dictates which religion books will be used. The federal government provides free money to the churches to ensure that no child gets left behind.
Imagine also that the results are the same as they are with public schooling. The entire system is a mess. Children grow up hating religion, church, and even God. Drug addiction among adults, all of whom were subjected to the state-operated religion system for some 12 years, is rampant.
Both conservatives and liberals would be constantly telling us that “The system needs reform.” They would be running for office exclaiming, “Elect me! I’ve got the ideas and the reform plans that will finally make our church system run well. Why, I’ll even run it like a business!”
But it’s easy, at least for us libertarians, to see that “getting better people into office” wouldn’t change a thing, and it might even make things worse. It’s easy to see that the problem is a systemic one—that is, the problem is the system itself. Nothing could be done to fix it. No reform plan would ever make it work.
The only solution would be to dismantle the whole thing and leave people free to handle the matter in their own way. Some would send their children to church and some wouldn’t. Some would teach their children the Bible and others would use the Torah or the Koran. Those families that were religious would decide which religion to choose.
One thing is for sure though: The only way that people would start thinking about the idea of religious liberty would be if someone starting talking about it. If no one conceives of the idea and spreads it to others, then people will necessarily remain mired within the religious statism under which they were born and raised.
When one person conceives of the idea, there is no guarantee that it will be embraced by others in society but at least there is a chance that it could happen. One person shares the idea with another person, who likes it and shares it with another, and so forth. Ultimately, a critical mass in favor of the idea can form, which brings about a major shift in society.
That’s what we libertarians must continue doing with respect to such areas as the welfare state, the drug war, the managed economy, the national-security state, and America’s military empire. While conservatives and liberals will engage in their everyday fights over which one of them should be elected to reform the welfare-warfare state, we libertarians must continue raising people’s vision to a higher level: to one based on economic liberty, free markets, and a constitutional republic.
Will a critical mass of Americans embrace libertarianism? It’s impossible to say. But the only chance we have to achieve a genuinely free society is to continue sharing ideas on liberty with others, in the hope that they achieve the same breakthrough that we have.