Can government force us to do good? Can it legitimately enact laws and regulations which make us a better people? Of course it can (and does).
It can, for example, outlaw racial discrimination. But can government force us to support or even to do things that we would strongly prefer not to support, much less do? Things that may even offend deeply held convictions, sometimes perhaps even forcing us to pay taxes to support policies (e.g. "unjust" wars) that some (many?) might consider to be morally, ethically wrong/repugnant.
So why the fuss when those in authority pressure military chaplains to officiate at same sex "weddings"? Or when Catholic or Evangelical town clerks are required to issue same sex marriage licenses? Or when anti-discrimination laws are intepreted to require Catholic social services, as a condition of receiving public monies, to place adoptive children into same sex "families" (forcing the agencies in question to compromise their core religious beliefs or to cease providing adoption services)? Or when Catholic institutions and/or even Catholic owned private businesses are threatened with regulations that would require them -- whether directly or indirectly -- to provide employee health insurance plans that cover contraceptives, abortion inducing drugs and the like?
Good questions. Many contend that no religiously affiliated entity which serves the general public or which employs people other than those of its own faith tradition can legitimately assert a right of conscience vis-a-vis the demands of the government. Ditto for any business which (as most do) employs people who do not share the religious convictions of the owners. Forget appeals to protections afforded by the First Amendment's "free exercise thereof" clause. Or forget about "conscientious objection". After all, as we have seen, government can exercise sweeping, effectively unlimited powers to regulate the actions -- often even the speech -- of its citizens, their objections, conscientious or otherwise notwithstanding.
Government can. But should it? Are there moral and constitutional limits to what government can or cannot do/should or should not do, particularly when it confronts the morally and religiously informed consciences of its citizens? Is there a point at which we should , nay must, draw a line in the sand, a line which tells government that there are limits. That religiously informed consciences, whether those of public employees, business owners and/or religiously affiliated institutions ought to accomodated, respected, honored. I submit -- in words that might disturb, even anger some readers -- that we are now contending with quasi-totalitarian attitudes and policies: policies and attitudes which, under the guise of preventing "discrimination" could, among other things, drive religion and religious institutions out of the public square, effectively leaving churches with little more than the "freedom to worship".
In this regard, I don't that Chicago's Cardinal George was being unduly alarmist when he said that present governmental policies, if not resisted and blocked, might effectively force many Catholic social services (hospitals, schools, etc.) to go out of business.
Accordingly, we must recognize that modern government -- particularly governments under the control of leftist ideologues -- are notably expansionistic, arguably overzealous in providing for what they take to be the "happiness" and well being of their citizenry (subjects?). Which implies, of course, that government tends to become an increasingly monopolistic institution, impinging upon, even suppressing, the legitimate prerogatives of religious organizations, businesses and individuals. For anyone who thinks that I exaggerate, I suggest that they look to recent developments not only in the United States but in Canada, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
In my more pessimistic moments, then, I see us drifting toward a Hobbsean understanding of government and its role in society. Thomas Hobbes, as you may recall, was a seventeenth century champion of absolutist government, a government which should, he thought, effectively exercise extensive control of religious affairs, even to the point of interpreting Scripture. Old Thomas (he lived to the ripe old age of 90) must be smiling from wherever he is now when he hears his modern epigones talk about forcing churches, business owners and public employees to compromise, even repudiate, their core beliefs, in the name of "separation of church and state".
Or because an imperialistic government refuses to acknowledge limits on its power to do "good," good as it might be defined by the federal HHS bureaucracy or by militant, self stlyed "progressive" special interest groups.