Antiquated charity laws which advantage promotion of religious dogma come under the spotlight (Barking & Dagenham Post. Opinion Piece 9.10.19)
“Who gets to be a charity? A minor issue perhaps as Brexit and planetary extinction loom. But it could soon be a hot topic as private schools shape up to be an election battleground. Labour questions whether it’s in the public interest that elite institutions like Eton should be able to claim the privilege of charitable status. The prize is that charities legally avoid paying tax. Humanists UK take no position on private schools. But the debate is a chance to question which religious organisations should enjoy such tax advantages.
Why for example should tax relief be given to organisations who exist solely to distribute religious tracts, or run religious courts, or promote ritual slaughter of animals, or champion discredited ‘gay conversion’ therapy? These are just a few examples from the estimated 12000 religious charities whose only purpose is to promote their creed. They benefit because under charity law ‘The advancement of religion’ is still one of the 13 purposes which qualify for charitable status. Of course many religious organisations do valuable work which benefits our communities. And of course they should continue to qualify. But this should be based on the nature of the benefit they provide. They may for example qualify under the Charity Act’s ‘Relief of poverty’ purpose.
These antiquated provisions are ripe for reform. ‘Religious advancement’ as a charitable purpose in itself has no place in a modern secular society. We need a level playing field where a strict public benefit test applies to all charities.”
Chair East London Humanists