Reform charity laws

Reform charity laws

Page 13 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

Pastor Donald Clough

NSS refers Christian charity to regulator over misogyny

Posted: Thu, 27 Oct 2022 09:26

A Christian charity is under investigation after the National Secular Society reported it for a sermon saying housework is the "primary function" of women.

The NSS raised concerns with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) after it found a sermon which said a woman's role is to cook and clean.

The sermon, entitled "The Conduct of Christian Women", was published on the website of Moray Coast Baptist Church, which registered as a charity in August.

It was delivered by Pastor Donald Clough (pictured), originally an assistant pastor at the New Testament Baptist Church in Minnesota, USA.

Moray Coast Baptist Church is registered under the charitable purpose of "the advancement of religion" and says its object is to "proclaim and propagate the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Baptist faith through the ministry and through a program of Christian education". It believes that "the Bible is the inspired Word of God" and "that it is without error and will never lead us astray".

The church holds a Sunday School, run by Donald's wife Tabitha, for children aged 4-10 to "learn valuable life lessons from the Holy Bible".

Pastor Clough: "Society would be a lot better if women would submit to their husbands"

In the sermon, dated October last year, Pastor Clough said "it's not fitting or proper for a woman to exercise authority over men" because the Bible says man was created first and women were created "to be a helper for man".

He said: "As a woman, your role in the home is to submit to the authority and leadership of your husband, and to bring up godly children.

"And in the church your role is to submit to your pastor and the leadership of the men in the church".

He also said women "tend to be a little more easily deceived than men" in spiritual matters but that they save themselves "by focusing on the role that God has given to them".

He said 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 preparing of meals".

He added that today women "have a very different focus than what God intended", because many are "very career-minded".

He said: "Society would be a lot better if women would submit to their husbands and tend to their children and take care of their home.

"The world wouldn't be in the mess that it is in today if that were the case."

'I only want my wife to look sensual when she's around me'

Clough said men "tend to struggle" with "seeing a woman and having a desire for her", but that women can "greatly help" by "not dressing in an immodest or a sensual way".

He gave the example of his own wife, saying: "I wouldn't want my wife going around looking like something the cat dragged in, as they say, or like she was wearing a sack or something like that, I want her to look nice. And I want other people to see how nice she looks.

"But I don't want her to look sensual, only when she's around me, but I don't want her looking that way around other people and I don't want her drawing attention to herself in a sensual way.

"And I don't want her looking ugly but I don't want her being extravagant to the point of excess."

"Far too many women are controlled by their emotions"

Clough said a woman shouldn't be "forward, or flirtatious, or attention-seeking", adding: "I think we've all known women that behave themselves that way."

He said "far too many women are controlled by their emotions" and that God wants women to have "meek and quiet spirit" and "a humble and submissive disposition".

Concluding his sermon, Clough said that a woman "usually gets upset by hearing these things" when she is "not spiritually mature enough to accept them".

NSS: Sermon is "a masterclass in misogyny"

OSCR has confirmed the charity is "being examined".

OSCR guidance says registered charities "must actively provide benefit". Furthermore, an organisation may fail the charity test if it causes "actual or likely detriment or harm".

But in June OSCR failed to intervene on another Christian charity which promoted anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and homophobia on Facebook because the views expressed by the charity "are in accordance with their religious beliefs".

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson called the sermon "a masterclass in misogyny".

She said: "It's shocking to think these sexist, patriarchal attitudes still exist in Scotland.

"It's even more shocking to think that a leader in a registered charity which runs a children's Sunday School would promote the subjugation of women.

"In return for generous tax breaks, charities are meant to provide a public benefit and not cause likely detriment or harm. Promoting female subordination clearly doesn't benefit the public – it merely fuels the misogyny underpinning discrimination, abuse and coercive control of women that the Scottish government says it is committed to ending.

"Unfortunately, OSCR's hands may be tied, as it appears unwilling to act against charities promoting harmful ideas as long as those ideas are religious.

"If 'the advancement of religion' charitable purpose enables charities to promote misogyny with impunity, it must be removed from the register of charitable purposes."

Image: Moray Coast Baptist Church website (cropped)

NSS backs plans to pardon convicted Scottish ‘witches’

NSS backs plans to pardon convicted Scottish ‘witches’

Posted: Wed, 14 Sep 2022 11:58

The National Secular Society has backed plans to formally pardon those convicted of witchcraft in Scotland but said more is needed to tackle misogyny.

The NSS has supported proposals in a consultation by Scottish National Party MSP Natalie Don for a Member's Bill which would pardon all those convicted under the Witchcraft Act 1563.

An estimated 3,837 people, disproportionately women, were accused of witchcraft in Scotland under the Act, with approximately 2,500 executed before the Act's repeal in 1736. Those accused of witchcraft were often tortured to obtain a confession.

The church played a role in increasing witchcraft hysteria by giving credit to the theory that women were more susceptible to evil influences, research suggests.

Don said the Bill "would give Scotland the chance to revisit these injustices" and "could have far-reaching impacts", as misogyny "remains an issue worldwide in modern society" and witch-hunts and executions still take place in countries across the world.

Witch-hunts and misogyny: The role of religious charities

In its response to the consultation, the NSS said it supported the proposed bill as witchcraft persecutions "are not confined to history" and the bill will send a message that "no-one should ever face criminal sanction or persecution based on allegations of witchcraft".

It expressed concerns about the role of religion in 'witchcraft abuse' cases, in which individuals, very often children, suspected of witchcraft are subjected to violent exorcisms.

Last year, a woman in the UK reported she had been subjected to abuse as a child after a church leader had branded her a witch and accused her of giving her mother cancer.

The NSS said witchcraft abuse can also include forms of 'conversion therapy' performed by religious groups intended to expel demons causing homosexuality. It highlighted that some of these 'exorcisms' have been conducted by churches that are registered charities in Scotland.

The NSS said while the pardon could help tackle misogyny, it noted that the overall impact "will be limited unless it is accompanied by more practical steps".

Responding to the consultation document's recognition that women accused of witchcraft were often those who deviated from expected gender roles, the NSS said some religious groups in Scotland still teach that women should be subordinate to men.

One example is the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, which says on its website: "The woman then is under authority – under male authority. Female subjection requires that she submit to that male authority. The man's authority means the woman's submission."

The NSS highlighted many of these faith groups are registered charities, despite guidance from Scotland's charity regulator OSCR stating registered charities "must actively provide benefit" and may fail the charity test if they cause "actual or likely detriment or harm".

The NSS said that because these charities are registered under the charitable purpose of 'the advancement of religion', OSCR is powerless to stop them promoting misogyny and other extremist views.

It highlighted how in June OSCR declined to uphold a complaint made by the NSS about misogynistic, homophobic and anti-vaccine Facebook posts by East Kilbride Christadelphians on the grounds that their statements were "in accordance with their religious beliefs".

NSS: Scottish government must do "far more" to tackle misogyny and abuse

NSS head of operations Helen Nicholls said: "A formal pardon for those convicted under the Witchcraft Act is right in principle and will help combat the still all too real problem of witch-hunts and witchcraft abuse, both in the UK and across the world.

"But if the Scottish government is serious about tackling witchcraft abuse, and the misogyny and homophobia that underpins much of this abuse, there is far more it needs to do.

"It is particularly concerning that the charity regulator is powerless to stop charities from promoting misogyny, homophobia and other extremist ideas under the cloak of religion.

"Charities must provide a public benefit and must not cause harm. If the charitable purpose of 'the advancement of religion' is helping fundamentalist faith groups to spread anti-woman and anti-LGBT views with impunity, that charitable purpose must be urgently reviewed."

The consultation closes on Thursday.

Image: Cairn to Maggie Wall, believed to have been burned as a witch, Dunning, Scotland (cropped). Stephencdickson, CC BY-SA 4.0

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