Saturday, March 15, 2008

Religious charities: new consultation

Action: please respond to the consultation: Charities commission information here; consultation proper here. To cut to the chase, you can simply email them to say that religious charities are ultimately concerned with the worship of God, not the mere propagation of a set of principles: otherwise they would be think-tanks or political parties. They are worthy of charitable status because the worship of God is a good, and the furthering of a good is a benefit to the public. If they deny this, they are taking up a theological position contrary to the great majority of the population of the country, and for which they have given no arguments.

From Christian Concern for our Nation: The Charities Act 2006 is an attempt by the Government to create a level playing field regarding the need for charities to prove public benefit. All charities, including those charities whose purposes concern advancing religion or education or the relief of poverty, are now required explicitly to show that their aims promote public benefit. Failing this, new and existing religious charities will no longer be considered to be charitable and will lose the tax and other benefits associated with being a charity. Previously these 3 types of charities were presumed to be of public benefit.

The Charity Commission's general guidance, ‘Charities and Public Benefit’ and ‘Summary Guidance for Charity Trustees’, published in January 2008, explains in general terms what the public benefit requirement means. But the Commission has now produced a specific Consultation for religious charities in their draft supplementary ‘Public Benefit and the Advancement of Religion’ guidance. The Consultation for this religious sub-sector guidance will close on 30th June 2008.

One of the issues that this Consultation will cover will be how to define
‘religion’. This dilemma has arisen as a result of the changes in the Charities
Act. The Charities Act states that ‘religion’ now includes a belief in more
than one god, and a religion which does not involve belief in a god. ‘God’ does
not start with a capital letter in any sentence of the Charities Act. This may
be seen as symbolic of the changes being made.

A previous decision by the Commission in a Church of Scientology case, having
considered the characteristics of a religion, concluded that the definition of
‘religion’ in English charity law was characterised by three aspects: firstly,
a belief in a supreme being, secondly, an expression of that belief through
worship and thirdly, that there must be an advancement of religion. Because of
this decision and the changes to include more than one god or no god, the
Consultation asks questions on the definition of ‘religion’. In our opinion, it
is vital that any redefinition of ‘religion’ maintains the three aspects
discussed in the Church of Scientology decision.

The Consultation explains that an alternative to ‘supreme being’ that has been
suggested is “a divine or transcendental being, entity or principle”. The
Consultation then poses the question as to the most appropriate terminology for
the Commission to use to describe the object or focus of religion.

Originally, charity law was founded on a traditional Christian belief in one
God. That requirement has been gradually eroded by the exceptions that have
been allowed. As Christians, we need to act now to ensure that the concept of
religion is not further secularised or diluted.

The LCF/CCFON is encouraging church leaders and trustees of Christian
organisations to respond to the Consultation on the religious sub-sector draft
supplementary ‘Public Benefit and the Advancement of Religion’ guidance to
demonstrate the depth of concern amongst Christian charities. It is crucial
that this Consultation receives a huge response, as amongst other important
issues, the very concept of ‘religion’ in charity law will be defined. This
definition will then be used to consider which charities are ‘charities’
according to the criterion of the ‘advancement of religion’.

It is of concern to note that the Commission has suggested that this particular
Consultation may also be of interest to trustees advancing non-religious belief
systems. In our opinion, this is neither necessary nor appropriate, as the
Commission intends to have separate sub-sector guidance for such charities. If
responses from those charities with non-religious beliefs are used to determine
the definition of religion this may result in even further secularisation or
dilution of the concept.

The LCF will be organising a Conference day on the Bill, looking at how to
respond to the Bill, examining the Consultation and will in due course provide
a link to our response which we hope will inform and assist you.

The link to the Consultation on draft supplementary guidance on Public Benefit
and the Advancement of Religion can be found at:

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Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St Michael

Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to Hell Satan, and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen