Government vs. Private Business: The Right to Discriminate?

Written by Wes Walker on October 7, 2013

Here’s a question for you to wrangle over:

What happens if a religious charity (in this instance, Christian) meets a social need so well that the Government sees them as a solution to a problem they’re unable to solve themselves?

What if they do it so well that the government contracts them out, and sends work their way?  What happens then?

What happens to their freedom to continue as a religious order?  Should they turn down the opportunity to provide the exact type of social help they were founded to provide?  (In this case, assistance to adults and children with disabilities?)  Should they provide that help, and insist that they be permitted to retain their religious identity?  Should they offer that help, and accept the government contract, forfeiting their religious identity in the process?

Why am I asking this?

The company I work with fits that description to a tee.  They were established decades ago to provide care for people with disabilities.  They were good at it, and prospered.  And they were called upon by their government to do the same for others, and quickly grew to one of the largest groups in their province.  When large institutions were mothballed, and other providers ran into trouble, this company stepped up.

Eventually, the government made demands.  Christian Horizons was originally a religious order, and hired people who were willing to operate within that expectation, the extended their services to people regardless of whether they shared that belief.

But since the government began contracting them to do a job it can’t do itself, it also decided that it could dictate the terms under which it could operate.

Christian Horizons was rewarded for having a successful model by having its autonomy usurped, and the heart of the distinctive character that lead to their original success torn out.

Here is an excellent article that describes what happened with Christian Horizons in better detail.  Considering the current hostility of the American Federal government toward religious expression, this question is relevant for you as well.

What is the relationship between the State and the Church?  What should it be?  And under what circumstances (if any) can one make demands of the other?