Churches Should not have Carte Blanche

Some Christians in Vancouver are objecting to the requirement that a church obtain a social services permit in order to operate a drop-in lunch program (Canadian Christianity Today). Their argument is that allowing only activities like worship services without a permit while requiring a permit for social services constitutes an improper implicit definition of Christianity by the government. This is a flawed argument.

This argument assumes that freedom of religion allows religious organizations to engage in any activity that they consider an aspect of their religion, exempt from regulation that is applicable to non-religious organizations. This is neither good policy nor the law. Freedom of religion allows people to believe and profess whatever they like, without restriction, but activities are subject to regulation since they potentially interfere with the rights of others. To take an extreme example, a religion whose ritual involves human sacrifice is not exempt from the laws against homicide, even if its adherents sincerely believe in the centrality of human sacrifice. Religious organizations are entitled to have their activities regulated on the same basis as everyone else - that is, they are entitled not to be discriminated against because they are religious or because they adhere to one religion and not another - but the mere fact that their purpose is religious does not exempt them from regulation.

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