Reform charity laws

Reform charity laws

Page 14 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

Regulator fails to act on religious charity’s homophobic, anti-vax memes

Regulator fails to act on religious charity’s homophobic, anti-vax memes

Posted: Tue, 7 Jun 2022 08:32

Scotland's charity regulator will not intervene in a Christian charity that the National Secular Society reported for making anti-vaccine and homophobic posts on Facebook.

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) launched an investigation into East Kilbride Christadelphian Ecclesia after the NSS made a referral in February.

But according to the Daily Record, OSCR concluded that the views expressed by the charity "are in accordance with their religious beliefs" and therefore action cannot be taken.

OSCR said: "In line with the Equality Act, we will not intervene in the activities of religious charities seeking to promote their ­religious beliefs unless their activities have the clear and direct effect of harming others or otherwise breach the law."

But the NSS has contended that East Kilbride Christadelphians' Facebook posts may cause harm by fostering homophobia and undermining public health messages, despite charities being required to serve a public benefit.

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".

East Kilbride Christadelphian Ecclesia is registered with Scottish charity regulator OSCR under the purpose of "the advancement of religion".

East Kilbride Christadelphians: Homophobia and vaccine conspiracies

The NSS found many memes posted on East Kilbride Christadelphians' Facebook page in 2020 and 2021 promoting anti-LGBT hate and conspiracy theories relating to the pandemic and vaccines.

Other memes suggested Bible stories about God destroying gay people should be taught as "LGBT history" and implied gay people are 'wolves in sheep's clothing'.

The charity has continued to make homophobic posts following OSCR's decision. Last week it posted a picture of a Pride parade with the caption: "Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire" (pictured).

NSS comment

The NSS campaigns to reform charity law to remove the privilege the charitable purpose of 'the advancement of religion' gives religious organisations.

NSS head of policy and research Megan Manson said: "It is concerning that OSCR is unable to intervene in a charity that promotes anti-vaccine conspiracy theories or anti-gay propaganda, if the charity is able to frame these messages in religious terms.

"We fail to see what active benefit East Kilbride Christadelphians are providing the public, while it is quite easy to see how their anti-vaccine and homophobic messages could cause detriment and harm.

"If OSCR is unable to hold religious charities to the same high standards as other charities, this must prompt reforms to charity law. This includes reconsidering the inclusion of 'the advancement of religion' on the list of charitable purposes."


  • In a 2019 report the NSS argued that 'the advancement of religion' should be removed as a charitable purpose.
  • The Christadelphians are a Christian sect founded in the 19th century. They state their beliefs are based wholly on the Bible.
Religious charity shut down after NSS raises extremism concerns

Religious charity shut down after NSS raises extremism concerns

Posted: Mon, 23 May 2022 13:45

The charity regulator has shut down an Islamic charity after the National Secular Society repeatedly raised concerns about extremism.

The Charity Commission for England and Wales ordered Islamic Research Foundation International (IRFI) to be dissolved after an inquiry found it had funded TV programmes which incited violence and murder.

IRFI was removed from the charity register earlier this month.

In 2020 the commission opened a statutory inquiry into the charity, which aimed to advance the Islamic faith by funding the Peace TV network. It also appointed an interim manager to "consider the future viability" of IRFI.

IRFI was registered under the charitable purpose of 'the advancement of religion'. Its remaining funds of £57,950 have been transferred to three charities with "similar objects".

The inquiry found IRFI's trustees had mismanaged the charity by continuing to fund Peace TV.

Between 2015 and 2020, 96% of the charity's expenditure, amounting to around £3.6 million, was granted to Universal Broadcasting Company, the parent company of the Peace TV channels' two licence holders.

Some of the charity's trustees had been directors of companies within this group structure whilst also acting as trustees of the charity, the commission found. The inquiry saw no evidence that conflicts of interest were appropriately identified and managed.

The former chair of IRFI's listed trustees, Zakir Naik (pictured), was also a regular preacher on Peace TV. He has been banned entry to the UK over security concerns. He was disqualified as a trustee in 2019 and barred from holding senior management functions in any charity in England and Wales.

NSS action on IRFI

The NSS has repeatedly raised concerns about IRFI since 2018, when it questioned Naik's involvement with IRFI in a letter to the commission.

In 2019 the NSS found that the commission had received five complaints about IRFI in the last nine years.

It also raised IRFI's record in its 2019 report For the public benefit?, which calls for reform of charity law to remove 'the advancement of religion' from the list of charitable purposes.

The NSS has referred other charities to the commission for promoting extremism. Last year it reported two Islamic charities to the regulator after pro-Taliban and antisemitic sermons were found on one of the charities' websites.

NSS head of policy and research Megan Manson said: "The commission's decision to close down this charity is a victory against Islamist extremism.

"Charities have a duty to provide a public benefit. An organisation like IRFI that promotes such extreme hate and violence should never have been allowed on the charity register, and benefit from all the tax breaks given to charities, in the first place.

"Unfortunately, we know there are still charities registered under 'the advancement of religion' which promote extremism and hatred. Our evidence suggests this charitable purpose can be used as a cloak enabling fundamentalists to promote their extremist views.

"We therefore call for the charitable purpose of 'the advancement of religion' to be reviewed as a matter of urgency. Charities must not be allowed to undermine public safety, community cohesion or the charity sector".

Peace TV's record

  • Broadcasting regulator Ofcom reprimanded Peace TV in 2012 after Naik said he "tended to agree" that Muslims should be executed if they leave Islam and tried to proselytise a different religion "against Islam".
  • In 2016 the channel was fined £65,000 after another speaker used deeply derogatory terms to describe Jews.
  • Other speakers who have broadcast on Peace TV include Bilal Philips, who the US named as a co-conspirator in the 9/11 attacks.
  • In 2018 Ofcom said it was pursuing six investigations against Peace TV, relating to shows with titles including 'Valley of the Homosexuals'.
  • In 2019 Ofcom revoked the licence of Peace TV Urdu's broadcaster, Club TV, after it found the channel had "repeatedly rebroadcast" material that incited murder.
  • In 2020 Ofcom fined Peace TV's former broadcasters £300,000 for breaches of its broadcasting code.

Image: Dr Zakir Naik, via Wikimedia Commons, © Maapu [CC BY-2.0] (cropped)

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