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Liberal Logic's Slippery Slope

Opinion Editorial
February 8, 2000

By Linda Gorman

Having legislators listen to public testimony, an activity almost as exciting as watching paint dry, is essential to keeping us safe from democracy. Despite the tedium, some of last week’s legislative hearings did provide insight into the thought processes of those who champion the Nanny State.

HB-1202 would help parents protect their children from overweening schools by requiring that Colorado school-districts get informed parental consent before they gather information from students on subjects unrelated to academic progress. The issue has come up because schools subject students to mental health evaluations without parental knowledge. They also ask students questions about the behavior of friends and family on topics ranging from sexual habits to gun ownership. Such intrusiveness diverts schools and is bad for children.

Oddly, a coalition of immunization providers claimed that this bill would hinder their efforts to help. Parents move a lot, they said, and the immunization schedule is complex. Records are lost. Clinics must then telephone other “providers” or check with schools to get the necessary information. Blocking data release would prevent them from using school information about a child’s immunizations.

This argument had many people scratching their heads. Though the coalition representative kept going on and on about day cares and preschools, the proposed law affected only school districts. Furthermore, Colorado state law requires that children be immunized before they start school. In a law-abiding school district, the fact that a child has been admitted presumably demonstrates that he has had his shots. A 1991 Colorado Department of Health survey of kindergarten immunization records by Timothy R. Englert [1] concluded that by school, 96% of children were fully immunized.

When pressed, immunization registry supporters say that the state needs access to school “health” information because schools admit unimmunized students, give them a deadline to complete the shots, and never follow up.

In short, pass a simple law, let some ignore it in the name of compassion, and, when the undesirable consequences of ignoring it surface, try to fix them by passing another, more oppressive, law. It would be hard to find a better illustration of why those who trumpet government “compassion” so quickly slide down the slippery slope leading to oppressive government control.

When vaccines were developed, millions voluntarily immunized their children to protect them from horrible diseases. Still, governments made vaccination a requirement for attending public schools. The vast majority of parents manage to comply with these requirements. They keep track despite moves, complex schedules, and sunspot disruptions in radio communications. Those with principled objections file paperwork to exempt their kids. Those who are lazy wait until the deadline and then turn their kids into pincushions.

But some of the pincushions might miss some school. This, the compassionate say, will never do. We cannot make children miss school just because they have feckless parents. Let the unimmunized kids enroll if parents promise to complete their shots by a certain date. Though this creates administrative headaches for schools, feckless parents get what they want, and the bleeding hearts can rejoice in their “more humane” system.

Of course bending the simple requirement of immunization before enrollment means that more people will ignore it. It also gives disorganized parents more incentive not to keep track. The “compassionate” then want government keep track for them. Parenting is the hardest job most people will ever do, they argue. What is government for if not to help?

A central immunization registry is created to track infants. Everyone, even the parents who do a perfectly fine job, must participate. How else could government officials determine who needs “help”? But because compassionate schools now enroll some unimmunized children, the infant immunization registry must be expanded to include “epidemiological” and other data on all children under 18 (currently HB-1023). The data, we are to understand, are strictly for “research purposes” and these records, unlike records from the IRS and the FBI, will never be misused. Never mind that the term “epidemiological data” now covers almost anything and that some people think not vaccinating one’s child ought to be considered child abuse.

To “help” the minority of children with disorganized parents reduce their already miniscule chance of getting a particular disease, immunization registry proponents want legislation creating individual dossiers on every child. They oppose legislation giving a parent the power to protect his child from irresponsible school officials. They, like socialists everywhere, end up oppressing people in order to save them.

Want another example? Look at the news reports about the “strong” gun background check that just passed the Colorado Senate. It would deny someone the right to purchase a firearm if he has an arrest record. But arrests are not convictions. This law would put the burden of proof on the buyer. In order to save us, the government would now declare us guilty until proven innocent.


[1] Timothy R. Englert. 1991. Survey of Kindergarten Immunization Records in Colorado, 1990-1. Colorado Department of Health.

Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado, https://i2i.org. This article originally appeared in the Colorado Daily (Boulder), for which Linda Gorman is a regular columnist.

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