In recent political debates in the United States, several candidates have called for tuition-free university. Let’s consider history before rushing to adopt that idea.

Catherine the Great in late 18th century Russia observed with deep interest the diversity of devout religious groups that went to British North America. She decided to increase the religious diversity in Western Russia, particularly in what is now modern day Ukraine. She invited various religious groups from Europe to settle there. It changed the fabric of Ukrainian society.

Like the former British Colonies in modern day United States, that diverse and deeply religious fabric offers promise for a society, including religious freedom, freedom of the press. However, diversity is no guarantee of the freedoms of thought, ideas, and values. The Russian Tsar attempted to form a religiously diverse society, which only served to strengthen the State and weaken individual freedoms.

In the British Colonies in North America, the diversity of religious backgrounds was the result of a lack of religious freedom in England. Amid all the diversity and conflicting views on religion, it was not the British Crown, but rather “We the People” who identified common ideas and values under which the United States was established. The North American British Colonists banded together in unity to stand against the tyranny of the British Crown.

Today we face a similar problem with the same opportunity. Modern universities are, in many ways, the most diverse communities in modern culture. However, the diversity in the university is, in similar fashion to Catherine the Great’s edict, often instituted by State mandate.

Unless religious diversity is cherished by the people, the freedoms of religion and thought will need to be protected by the State. The result will not be true diversity or true freedom. The result will be tuition-free university, with higher taxation for all. And the result will be a stronger State that limits the freedom of thought that is required for a truly free university.