Reform charity laws

Reform charity laws

Page 12 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 action on religious homophobia in report to UN

NSS calls for action on religious homophobia in report to UN

Posted: Wed, 18 Jan 2023 11:54

The National Secular Society has highlighted the role of religion in discrimination against LGBT people in a submission to the United Nations.

It said the UK's established church, education and charity sector enable "state-condoned homophobia".

The NSS called for the government to tackle religious threats to LGBT equality in response to a call for evidence from the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender (IE SOGI).

The IE SOGI is examining the relationship between freedom of religion or belief and discrimination against LGBT people. They will present their findings to the UN Human Rights Council later this year.

The NSS raised the following issues:

Established church

The doctrine of the Anglican church holds that gay sex is a sin and same-sex marriage is incompatible with scripture. This was most recently reaffirmed by the archbishop of Canterbury at the Lambeth conference last year.

The NSS said the government must take the necessary steps to disestablish the Church of England and abolish the bishops' bench, as it is unacceptable for any institution acting as part of the state to uphold homophobic values.


State-funded faith schools are permitted, under government guidance, to teach relationship and sex education (RSE) in line with their "distinctive faith perspective on relationships". This allows many schools, especially Catholic ones, to teach that homosexuality is wrong.

The issue also extends to nonreligious schools. In 2019, Parkfield School was targeted by Muslim activists for its 'No Outsiders' programme, which promoted LGBT rights. Last year, Khakan Qureshi, a gay Muslim man, received death threats after telling pupils at Wood Green Academy that Islam and homosexuality are compatible.

The NSS said the government must ensure schools are fulfilling their legal requirements under the Equality Act 2010 to teach inclusive RSE, without intimidation from religious fundamentalists.


"The advancement of religion" is a recognised charitable purpose in UK law. The NSS highlighted how this enables charities to promote homophobia as part of their religious doctrine. This includes charities which conduct so-called 'conversion therapy', such as Core Issues Trust.

The NSS said organisations which promote homophobia should not be permitted to register as charities.

Equality Act exemptions

The NSS said the government must re-examine exemptions for religious organisations in the Equality Act. It argued that while some exemptions may be reasonable, they are too often used to discriminate against LGBT people. In 2015, for example, a gay vicar who claimed his bishop had discriminated against him by denying him a post as a hospital chaplain lost his case at an employment tribunal.

NSS: State should not "endorse or condone" religious homophobia

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "All too often, freedom of religion or belief is interpreted as the right for beliefs to be protected, rather than people.

"Such an approach is frequently detrimental to oppressed groups including LGBT people.

"While religious people should be allowed to follow their beliefs, those beliefs must not be imposed on anyone. Nor should the state in any way endorse or condone homophobia, including religious homophobia.

"A secular democracy, which gives no privilege to religious ideas, is the best means of tackling tensions between religious freedom and the right of LGBT people to live free from discrimination and violence."

Image by rihaij from Pixabay

Government funds charity bringing “biblical truth” to sex workers

Government funds charity bringing “biblical truth” to sex workers

Posted: Mon, 14 Nov 2022 12:06

The National Secular Society has criticised the government for funding a faith group which aims to bring "biblical truth" to trafficked women.

The government has awarded £7,747 to All Souls Serve the City, a charity which exists to "advance the Christian faith" in London, for its 'Tamar' project.

According to the charity's website, Tamar is "a team of volunteer women who aim to restore hope to people exploited in the sex industry". This includes offering "prayer for individual need".

The funding was awarded as part of the government's £1.3 million 'faith new deal pilot fund' for faith-based organisations that provide community services. Nonreligious groups were unable to apply.

Sixteen groups, mostly Christian, were awarded funding under the scheme.

Tamar: Being a Christian "essential" but not experience in supporting women in the sex industry

According to a support worker job description on the charity's site, it is "essential" to be an evangelical Christian for the role, for which key tasks include "conducting one to one Bible studies".

In contrast, experience with supporting women involved in the sex industry and safeguarding reporting is not essential.

The job description says Tamar "seek to bring gospel hope and biblical truth to those who find themselves homeless, women involved in the sex industry including those who are trafficked and exploited".

According to a 2020 report from the Universities of Sheffield and Leeds, faith groups should avoid proselytising when working with victims of modern slavery. The report found some survivors who had sought help from religious organisations had experienced pressure to attend religious services because they felt it was a requirement of the support.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said it had "undertaken an equality analysis" on the faith new deal pilot scheme to ensure services delivered by faith groups with Government funding "do not proselytise or promote religion".

Women's rights campaigners "appalled"

Selma Taha, Executive Director of London-based women's rights group Southall Black Sisters, said: "We are appalled that the government should have set aside funding specifically for religious groups to provide such sensitive services when many organisations, with years of expertise and experience in the Violence Against Women and Girls Sector, are facing funding crises.

"Evangelical proselytising is the more egregious end of a spectrum in which religious-based services, in any case, are not an appropriate solution for supporting women who may be judged for not conforming to gender stereotypes. "

Megan Manson, head of campaigns at the National Secular Society, said: "Helping vulnerable women who are homeless or exploited by the sex industry is a noble cause, but there are serious concerns where the support offered comes with religious strings attached.

"While Tamar may have the best intentions, the requirement for workers to be evangelical Christians and for them to hold Bible study sessions suggests this group may be prioritising a religious agenda.

"This demonstrates why the government providing exclusive grants that only faith groups can access is wrong. Not only does this discriminate against and marginalise the already struggling secular charities – it also opens the door to religious groups using the opportunity as a mission field.

"The government must discontinue discriminatory grant programmes and ensure any religious groups that are given public funds do not use that money to proselytise to vulnerable people or discriminate against those who don't share their faith."

MPs push for more faith-based public services

In a report launched in September, the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on faith and society says the public should expect faith groups to be "increasingly involved in the leadership and management of 'secular' referrals and key worker care in the community", and to receive "increasingly significant amounts of public funding to do this".

Some projects have already received "hundreds of thousands of pounds from public funds", according to the report.

The APPG on faith and society, which is chaired by evangelical Christian and Labour MP Stephen Timms, aims "to highlight the contribution to society by faith-based organisations".

2016 polling by the Oasis Foundation found 65% of people have no confidence in church groups running "crucial social provisions such as healthcare" with only 2% expressing a lot of confidence.

Update 02/01/23: The Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities has confirmed to the NSS that All Souls Serve the City do "offer prayer and Bible studies as part of their services", but they say "they offer this on a voluntary participation basis and only when they are first asked by a service user."

Image: Madison from Pixabay

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