Reform charity laws

Reform charity laws

Page 11 of 42: All charities, religious or not, should be held to the same standards.

Many religious charities do fantastic work.

But many others fail to provide a public benefit and some cause harm.

It's time to end religious privilege in charity law.

Charity work carried out by people of all faiths and none should be recognised and celebrated. Much of the work of religious charities, such as helping the poor, is secular in nature and beneficial to society.

But there are religious organisations which exploit the privileged status of religion in charity law to conduct activities that do not fulfil a genuine public benefit, and only serve to further religious ideology.

In the worst cases, religious charities may harm society and individuals.

Registered charities must serve a purpose recognised as "charitable". Charity laws specify a list of "charitable purposes," one of which is "the advancement of religion".

Charities must also demonstrate that they provide a genuine public benefit. But guidelines are vague on what constitutes a public benefit, particular in relation to religious activities. There is still an assumption in the charity system that religion is inherently beneficial. This view is not supported by evidence and implies those without a religion are somehow less moral or charitable.

The inclusion of the advancement of religion within charitable purposes gives religion a privileged position in the charity sector. It enables religious organisations to acquire all the benefits of charitable status, including tax relief, gift aid and public respectability, simply by "advancing religion".

It also includes religious organisations that cause harm to society. This includes charities which facilitate religious genital cutting, support the non-stun slaughter industry, and promote extremism, hatred and intolerance of other people.

The NSS believes all charities, religious or not, should be held to equally high standards. That's why we campaign for "the advancement of religion" to be removed from the list of charitable purposes, and for religious charities to be held to the same equality laws as all other charities.

Take action!

1. Write to your MP

Tell your MP it's time for "the advancement of religion" to be removed as a charitable purpose. Enter your postcode below to find your MP and send a letter to them.

2. Share your story

Tell us why you support this campaign, and how you are personally affected by the issue. You can also let us know if you would like assistance with a particular issue.

3. Join us

Become a member of the National Secular Society today! Together, we can separate religion and state for greater freedom and fairness.

Latest updates

NSS calls for review of religious ‘crisis pregnancy centres’

NSS calls for review of religious ‘crisis pregnancy centres’

Posted: Wed, 22 Mar 2023 09:32

The National Secular Society has urged ministers to review the charitable status of 'crisis pregnancy centres' giving unethical advice to pregnant woman.

Crisis pregnancy centres are organisations outside the NHS that offer advice to women with unplanned pregnancies. Many are registered charities. Of the 57 centres identified in a BBC Panorama investigation aired last month, 21 gave "misleading medical information and/or unethical advice" in order to dissuade women from having abortions.

Of the three centres that featured in the documentary, two included "advancement of religion" among their charitable aims. The Scottish branch of the third centre, Stanton Healthcare, previously included "advancement of religion" amongst its charitable aims but this has since been removed.

In letters to UK charity ministers last week, the NSS said it was "reasonable to conclude these organisations are seeking to dissuade women from having abortions due to religious beliefs". It added that "it is difficult to see how they are acting in the public benefit".

The NSS called on ministers to review the charitable status of the organisations in question and to take steps to prevent similar organisations from obtaining charitable status in the future. The letter also urged a broader review of "advancement of religion" as a grounds for charitable status.

Amongst the misleading advice provided by the centres were claims that abortion was linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and infertility, and could cause 'post-abortion syndrome', a condition not recognised by the NHS. None of these assertions are supported by scientific evidence.

Footage from consultations at three centres were analysed by a consultant gynaecologist and the Young People and Families Lead of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. They determined that the counsellors at the centres were being "manipulative" and were trying to "cause guilt".

The NSS's call comes amidst warnings from experts that the UK is facing a "crisis point" in abortion provision, with increasing demand and reduced access to care in many areas. Without access to high quality NHS funded care, women may be more likely to turn to crisis pregnancy centres.

The NSS has previously questioned why Stanton Healthcare was allowed to register a new branch in Scotland in 2021. An undercover reporter had previously been told at Stanton Healthcare's Belfast clinic that she was "too beautiful for abortion" and that a termination would make her breasts "fill with cancer".

NSS: 'religious charities cannot be allowed to misinform and emotionally manipulate women'

NSS campaigns officer Dr Alejandro Sanchez said: "Women have a right to impartial, medically accurate advice when deciding whether to continue a pregnancy or not.

"We cannot allow opportunistic religious charities to misinform and emotionally manipulate women in order to dissuade them from having abortions.

"Ministers must now act to bring these organisations to heel."

Image by Chokniti Khongchum from Pixabay

Regulator OKs misogyny, homophobia at Scottish religious charities

Regulator OKs misogyny, homophobia at Scottish religious charities

Posted: Mon, 13 Mar 2023 11:27

The National Secular Society is calling for reforms to charity law in Scotland after the charity regulator said it cannot stop religious charities promoting misogyny and homophobia.

The NSS said charity regulation needs "urgent review" after the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) refused to intervene on charities which posted homophobic memes on Facebook and published a sermon saying housework is the "primary function" of women.

In its letter to the cabinet secretary for social justice, housing and local government Shona Robison MSP, the NSS urged her to take action "to ensure organisations cannot exploit the benefits of the charity sector to promote intolerance, hatred or discrimination".

It argued that the charitable purpose of "the advancement of religion" should be reviewed, as it provides a "loophole" for charities to promote misogynistic and homophobic ideology.

OSCR: No action on bigoted views "held by virtue of a manifestation of a religious belief"

The NSS reported Moray Coast Baptist Church to OSCR after finding a sermon on its website which said women should submit to male authority.

In the sermon dated 2021, the church's pastor Donald Clough said "it's not fitting or proper for a woman to exercise authority over men" and that the "primary function of a woman" is "to be married, to have children, and to tend to household affairs – the cooking, the cleaning, the washing up".

The NSS said such statements are in breach of OSCR's guidance which states registered charities "must actively provide benefit". An organisation may fail the charity test if it causes "likely detriment or harm".

In response, OSCR said it there are "insufficient regulatory grounds" for it to act because the matter "is not of a regulatory nature".

It added: "The views expressed are likely to be held by virtue of a manifestation of a religious belief. Religious beliefs are protected under the Equality Act 2010."

OSCR also refused to take action against East Kilbride Christadelphian Ecclesia last year after the NSS reported the charity for promoting homophobia and anti-vaccine conspiracies on Facebook. It said it could not take action because it concluded the views expressed by the charity "are in accordance with their religious beliefs".

In its letter to Shona Robison, the NSS said that while the Equality Act protects all individualsfrom discrimination, it does not protect the beliefsthemselves because this would "essentially impose a 'blasphemy' code on wider society."

Adding that both sex and sexual orientation are also protected characteristics, it said: "We fail to understand why OSCR has apparently decided that religion should be prioritised over these protected characteristics by failing to prevent charities from promoting ideas which are clearly discriminatory to women and LGBT people."

'The advancement of religion'

Charity law in Scotland recognises 13 "charitable purposes", one of which is "the advancement of religion". Both Moray Coast Baptist Church and East Kilbride Christadelphian Ecclesia are registered under this purpose.

The NSS said the charitable purpose of "the advancement of religion" is "exceptionalising" religious charities, allowing them to promote extremist ideas where charities registered under other purposes would not be able to do so.

It urged Robison to review this charitable purpose, and to work with OSCR to ensure no charities can promote misogyny, homophobia or any other extremism, whatever their religious ethos.

Last week the Scottish government opened a consultation on criminalising misogynistic behaviour. The proposals include an offence of "stirring up hatred against women and girls".

Robison "committed" to reviewing charity regulation

In her response to the NSS in February, Robinson said: "The Scottish Government is clear that everyone is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and to freedom of expression.

"But these do not confer a right to act in a way that negates the human rights of other members of society."

She added that she has "committed to conducting a review of charity regulation in Scotland" and that work will begin "later this year".

NSS: Government must stop 'feeding intolerance' of religious charities through tax breaks

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "OSCR's inability to stop charities promoting homophobia and misogyny simply because they're religious is worrying. The charitable purpose of 'the advancement of religion' has created a religious loophole to allow the promotion of bigotry."

"Fundamentalist religious beliefs about sex and sexuality frequently form the basis for attitudes which lead to discrimination, abuse and violence against women and LGBT people.

"If the government is serious about tackling hate and promoting true equality for all in Scotland, it must stop feeding the intolerance promoted by religious organisations by cutting off their tax breaks and removing their charitable status.

"Religion is no excuse for treating women and LGBT people as second class citizens."

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