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Ben Boychuk

is associate editor of City Journal, where he writes on education and California politics. Previously, he served as managing editor of the Heartland Institute's School Reform News and the Claremont Review of Books. He is also a former editorial writer for Investor's Business Daily and the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, California. Reach him at

Boychuk writes a weekly column for the Sacramento Bee and Scripps-Howard News Service. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the New York PostNational Review Online, the Korea Times and newspapers across the United States.

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America is still a free country, more or less

By BEN BOYCHUK 

Manhattan Institute’s City Journal
T
his one should be easy. Vaccinations protect individuals and whole communities from debilitating or deadly diseases.

People who refuse to vaccinate their kids for fear of them developing autism or suffering some other remote harm would put their children’s lives and the lives of other children in jeopardy — for a folly.

But it’s a free country, more or less. And it’s a divided country, as the coverage of presidential candidates trying to pander to everyone on the vaccination question certainly shows.

Would-be GOP presidential candidates find themselves in an impossible position. No political candidate can truly speak his mind anymore, if he ever could. A question as seemingly straightforward as whether parents should immunize their kids against preventable illnesses ends up being a clumsy exercise of “on the one hand, and on the other.” At the same time, no Republican presidential candidate worthy of serious consideration would endorse the outlandish idea of jailing parents for refusing to vaccinate their kids, as a USA Today columnist argued last month. No Democrat would take that position, either. The idea should be offensive to Americans who at least profess to value individual liberty, regardless of party.

What if, instead of the government applying direct pressure on people to vaccinate, the law made life too inconvenient for people not to vaccinate?

For example, lawmakers could tweak public accommodation laws to let businesses discriminate on the basis of vaccination. Disneyland might require visitors to produce vaccination records as a condition of entry. Other businesses might follow suit.

It would be inconvenient, of course. Anti-vax parents would howl with indignation. But personal choices often have broad consequences. And their indignation should not trump the public health. 

Reach Ben Boychuk at .