Marshall Fritz, R.I.P.

Remembering one of the most devoted and principled school reformers of all time


Marshall Fritz, the longtime libertarian leader who founded the Advocates for Self-Government and created the world-famous World's Smallest Political Quiz, died November 4th of pancreatic cancer at the age of 65.

I knew Marshall Fritz as the founder of the Alliance for the Separation of School and State. He wisely advised that "Sunday School, Monday School—Neither is the Business of Government." He wrote, "some people think that the American "public school system" is broken so they try to fix it. The truth is that public schooling is not broken. Rather, it is succeeding in its main objective—strengthening government by undermining parents…"

As education reform advocates argued about what counts as markets in education and what are legitimate forms of school choice—from vouchers to tax credits to charter schools—Marshall was never willing to settle for half-measures. As he advised in a 2005 reason piece, "Let a Thousand Choices Bloom," "Start with your own children. Remove them from school-by-government. You'll not be paying twice for education: You'll pay taxes for the state to harm other people's children, but you'll pay only once for education—your children's."

Marshall was quick to point out that of 55 million children, around 14 percent were getting an education without the government—6.5 million children attend private schools and nearly 2 million children are home schooled. Marshall was the lead author of the "Proclamation for the Separation of School and State," which states simply: "I proclaim publicly that I favor ending government involvement in education."

I must admit that I parted ways with Marshall on his strict separation of school and state. I have been willing to see progress in more immediate choices for families—for kids stuck in low-quality government schools whose parents may never shoulder the full responsibility of their children's education.

However, I see Marshall's firm line as a reality check all the time. When private preschools are afraid to speak out against universal government-run proposals because they are afraid of losing the 10 percent carve-out that some of these plans might throw their way; when private tutoring companies lobby for more federal education dollars so that they can have a bigger piece of a taxpayer-funded pie; when charter schools claim they must have equal financing to be successful; in all these cases I hear the voice of Marshall Fritz patiently explaining that government funding through vouchers, tax credits, or charter schools is not true choice. It's just a longer leash.

In June 2002, when the Supreme Court ruled that school vouchers were constitutional, I wrote, "I can't help but think of Marshall Fritz today, and all the others, who fear that this is not a victory for parents and children over government schools, but a victory for the government over private schools."

While I find it difficult to imagine a day where the separation of school and state is more than a proclamation, Marshall's stance has made it easier for me to do my job while also serving as a constant reminder of the eternal vigilance necessary to protect families from the state. Marshall was an eloquent champion who believed and practiced the notion that liberty starts at home.

Lisa Snell is director of education and child welfare at Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes reason online.

Editor's Note: If you would like to see tributes to Marshall and post your own, please go to Marshall's "Bucket List" website.

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  1. Is it just me, or have we lost a lot of libertarian notables in the last few weeks?

  2. I was thinking the same thing.

  3. “wisely advised that ‘Sunday School, Monday School-Neither is the Business of Government.'”

    Absolutely. A country founded on separation of church and state (first on the federal level, then over time on the state level, too) cannon consistently advocate that the state should be responsible for the philosophical, practical and moral instruction of children.

    The idea that religious instruction can be separeted from practical and moral instruction *is itself a religious idea.* It happens to be a false idea, but for present purposes what matters is that it’s a religious idea, therefore not to be “imposed” on the people by a polity which preaches governmental neutrality in religious matters.

    Naturally, I know that government neutrality in religion is impossible. True neutrality would mean allowing religious freedom to people who believe in beheading critics of their faith. It would mean parents could legally refuse medical assistance to their children if their religion forbids it.

    However, by getting into the education business – teaching not only physics and biology but such morally charged topics as sex education – the state abandons even the *pretense* of neutrality and officially proclaims that separation of religion and state is nonsense.

  4. “cannon consistently advocate” should be “cannot consistently advocate”

  5. RIP, Mr. Fritz. We’ll miss you.

  6. “cannon consistently advocate” should be “cannot consistently advocate”

    Mad, actually both work. Point of the gun and all that. (Screw syntax. And sin tax.)

  7. Despite a childhood soaked in econ and political philosophy texts (Rand, Hayek) and parents who emphasized choice and tolerance, the Advocates were the first to expose me to the word “libertarian” when I was 14 or so. That’s when I realized that there was this movement, related to (but separate from) conservatism, more in line with my values.

    RIP, Mr. Fritz.

  8. I had just discovered libertarianism back in the late 80’s. I was excited, here was a political philosophy that exactly matched what I believed. And so I started hanging out with some libertarians and going to libertarian groups. I was dismayed. I felt that I didn’t belong. I wasn’t gay. I wasn’t Wiccan. I didn’t smoke pot. I didn’t lead some strange macrobiotic lifestyle. I wasn’t a holocaust denier. Who the hell were these wackos?!?!? All the objectivists were inviting me to their Sunday morning atheist worship services, and all the non-objectivists were offering me sacramental pot.

    I was ready to leave the movement, but then I went to the 1988 national LP convention. Two people were there that made me change my mind and stay. Both were white, straight, Christian, and substance-free. The first was Ron Paul.

    The second was Marshall Fritz. I got to know Marshall a bit better in later years, but we lost touch when I moved away from the Fresno area. He was always warm and welcoming. He was always there to help and lend encouragement. He was a big man, a big stature, a big heart and a big smile.

    Goodbye Marshall, I will miss you.

  9. Intersting read- I guess I am not familiar with this man.

    As a strong supporter of vouchers, I’d like to know what is his suggested alternative? Completely privatized, non-subsidized education sounds like a worthy goal, but it would seem to condemn the poor (in money and/or parenting ability) to have children exactly like them.

  10. Separation of education and state??? You all are ridiculous. The government is what keeps the church out of the schools. Without the government, you’d have church all up in your kid’s face.

  11. “Without the government, you’d have church all up in your kid’s face.”

    Yes, if the parents wanted it that way.

    Thank you for your frankness in objecting to parental autonomy in religious matters, and for admitting that government schooling is a way to curtail that autonomy. You have greatly assisted me in making my point, and I appreciate it.

  12. The government is what keeps the church out of the schools. Without the government, you’d have church all up in your kid’s face.

    I went to public school for 12 years back in the Stone Age when things were really awful and there was never any classroom religion in my face. Never. Except the day JFK was shot and my English teacher offered a prayer for his soul. RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE CLASS!

    Course we were traumatized for life as a result and every singly kid in that classroom that day ended up on drugs, or in a mental institution, or committed suicide.

    The next prayer I heard in school was at baccalaureate. Unless you count the football players praying for victory before each game. Inexplicably, during my Senior year, the entire football team gave up dope, booze, and chicks. They got into that hippie babble of Calvary Chapel and would voluntarily break into prayer just before kickoff. Right on the field. It was ghastly. Even though nobody could hear them, it was clear what those bastards were doing.

  13. Kyle, my friend KC always says you have to have the idealistic and the realistic to make a movement work.

    Marshall Fritz was the idealistic moral side of the argument. Never wavering in principle.

    Reason’s Lisa Snell, is the realistic side. Not losing sight of the immorality of mandatory, tax supported public education, but understanding that public education is not going away. Ever.

    Within that framework it isn’t always helpful to point out repeatedly that public education should be abolished.

    Far better to bring in Greendot Schools and browbeat the LAUSD into granting a charter to operate Locke HS thus saving tens of thousands of kids from wallowing in a cesspool of educational neglect.

    Not to mention saving a few of them from outright death.

    It isn’t perfect but it is much better than what we had.

    Incremental changes sometimes have happy endings.

  14. Marshall’s commitment to his cause was very powerful. I ended up following the path he advocated with my own three children — even as I remained skeptical that his vision would ever be realized.

    I’m still skeptical, but (thanks to Marshall’s arguments) I no longer support universal vouchers. Even if they were introduced, I think they should be means-tested so as not to destroy the limited independence in this sector that exists now.

    As I see it, most of us already have choices with regard to how our children are educated — whether we exercise them or not.

  15. Marshall advocated a schooling credit. If you pay for private K-12 tuition, you get a tax credit. Parents could get it, or grandparents if they paid for the tuition. even third parties could get it if they paid the tuition. Because in California shools get funded by the number of children attending, in the long run this is revenue neutral.

    It’s better than vouchers, because public funds aren’t going to private schools, and there won’t be pressure for private schools to be regulated by a voucher-czar.

    And by the way lefiti, the tax credit even counted for secular non-religious schools!

  16. RE: …the immorality of mandatory, tax supported public education… is not going away. Ever.

    That’s right, its those immoral institutions, like public education, that seem to have the greatist staying power.

    Free, compulsary public education is a basic requirement of a just society, and an absloute necessity to a free society. You might want to consult Jefferson on that last point. He was one of the earliest advocates for a form of free pubilc education in America.

    Truly a man ahead of his time. You libertarians have some catching up to do.

  17. Alan,
    “Free compulsory public education”

    1. Not free, taxpayer funded.
    2. Compulsory, as in enforced by law (men with guns)
    3. education, in whatever the state, though which the funds flow, deems important.

    I like most of what Jefferson wrote and believed but on this he was dead wrong.

  18. I found a very good book on the subject that is free online called “the deliberate dumbing down of america”

    The Author Charlotte Iserbyt is the consummate whistleblower! Iserbyt served as Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), U.S. Department of Education, during the first Reagan Administration.

    Here is A Quote from the book.

    “That a “new age of collectivism” has emerged and is being implemented right now under our very noses in the The Noxious Nineties”, with little or no outrage from the public or our elected officials, can only be attributed to the “deliberate dumbing down” of Americans, who haven’t been taught the difference between free enterprise and planned economies (socialism); between “group thinking” and individual freedom and responsibility.” [Page 265]

  19. If we had never had public schools, we likely would not have many of the other problems we have today.

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