Reform charity laws

Reform charity laws

Page 15 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

Religious charities cost Canadian taxpayers billions, reports find

Religious charities cost Canadian taxpayers billions, reports find

Posted: Tue, 26 Apr 2022 12:18

A Canadian organisation has called for charity law reform after finding religious charities cost taxpayers billions every year.

Canadian taxpayers subsidise religious activities by as much as $3.2 billion annually as a result of income tax relief available to Canadians who donate to religious charities, according to Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFIC).

This violates a Supreme Court ruling that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion, because every Canadian is required to subsidise religious activities, CFIC said.

The findings were made in a series of reports arguing that organisations whose sole purpose is the advancement of religion should no longer be granted charitable status. The concluding report was published earlier this month.

In 2019 the National Secular Society released a report which also argued for a change in UK charity law to remove religious privilege.

Canada's criteria that determine which organisations qualify as a charity were inherited from British law, which recognises "the advancement of religion" as a charitable purpose.

This means organisations can register as charities if they exist only to evangelise and promote religion, without offering social or community benefits such as foodbanks.

More than 32,000 charities in Canada identify under the category of "advancement of religion", possessing assets exceeding $47 billion.

In addition to tax relief, Canadian governments transferred slightly more than $1 billion to charities incorporated under the category of advancement of religion in 2018.

CFIC said that organisations that require people to adhere to a particular faith or evangelise to recipients of their services should not be funded by the government.

The NSS has expressed similar concerns regarding religious charities funded by the UK government to provide public services. Last year the government announced a new £1 million pilot fund exclusively for religious organisations. The government has failed to respond to repeated requests from the NSS to justify excluding non-religious organisations from this fund.

CFIC also raised concerns about harms caused by religion, including discrimination against particular communities and restrictions on reproductive rights.

The NSS's report also highlighted how some religious charities promote harmful ideology and activities, including extremism, non-stun slaughter and 'conversion therapy'.

Both CFIC and the NSS have concluded many charities registered under 'the advancement of religion' that do other charitable work could register under a different charitable purpose if 'the advancement of religion' were removed. Those whose activities are exclusively religious could become non-profit organisations, similar to sports and community clubs.

NSS comment

NSS head of policy and research Megan Manson said: "When Canada inherited Britain's charity laws, it also inherited the problems accompanying the religious privilege within those laws.

"Now as both countries become increasingly irreligious and religiously-diverse, those problems are becoming ever more acute.

"The notion that taxpayers should fund overtly religious activities that serve no tangible public benefit is incompatible with secular democracy – especially when some of those activities harm people and society. The advancement of religion must therefore be removed from the list of charitable purposes in the UK and other countries with a similar charity system."


Centre for Inquiry Canada is a not-for-profit educational organisation promoting the application of critical thinking skills, good science, and secular decision making.

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Image: CFIC

Don’t let religion enable violence against women in NI, NSS says

Don’t let religion enable violence against women in NI, NSS says

Posted: Tue, 1 Mar 2022 16:52

The National Secular Society has warned the Northern Ireland Executive that conservative religious teachings may play a role in abuse and violence against women and girls.

The NSS has responded to the Executive Office's call for views on strategies to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG), as well as domestic and sexual abuse.

The Executive Office's proposals include initiatives to "address societal attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that contribute towards violence against women and girls", in addition to "an inclusive approach" to helping victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

In its response, the NSS said women and girls in conservative religious communities may be especially vulnerable to abuse due to religious teachings that subordinate women and impose strict gender roles. It said some forms of VAWG, including forced marriage, 'honour crimes', female genital mutilation (FGM) and 'witchcraft' abuse, are "directly linked" to religion.

It also highlighted how unregistered religious 'marriages' and sharia councils can compel women to stay in abusive relationships.

It welcomed plans to ban 'virginity testing' and 'virginity repair' in NI. Last week the NI assembly endorsed the principle of NI adopting provisions to ban these activities within the UK parliament's Health and Care Bill.

The NSS said LGBT+ individuals within religious communities were at heightened risk of abuse due to religious prohibitions on same-sex relationships. It said these individuals were more likely to experience 'conversion therapy'.

In order to prevent domestic abuse, sexual abuse and VAWG, the NSS said "age-appropriate and objective" relationships and sex education (RSE), which teaches vital information such as consent, should be made mandatory in all schools.

Schools in NI are required to develop an RSE curriculum based on their religious ethos. The NSS said this means provision is "extremely unequal" and "often organised to promote religious interests and views, rather than provide a comprehensive, rights-based education for pupils." It could result in schools teaching "stigmatising ideas about contraception, gender roles and same-sex relationships", the NSS said.

The NSS also called for a review of charity law to prevent organisations promoting homophobia or misogyny from becoming registered charities.

It highlighted how the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland refused to take action against Core Issues Trust, a Christian charity promoting "change orientated therapy" for gay people, after the NSS expressed concerns last year. It warned the charitable purpose of 'the advancement of religion' may enable charities to promote religiously-sanctioned homophobia and misogyny, despite the duty on charities to serve a public benefit.

The NSS warned some religious communities attempt to silence women's rights activists by accusing them of religious bigotry or intolerance. It said authorities "must protect the right to free speech of those who challenge any practice or ideology, religious or not, that harms women and girls or undermines their equality and human rights."

NSS comment

NSS head of policy and research Megan Manson said: "We welcome Northern Ireland's commitment to tackle domestic abuse, sexual abuse and violence against women and girls.

"Sadly, the subordinate role afforded to women in many organised religions has contributed to abuse and violence.

"In order to challenge religious ideology that contributes to abuse and misogyny, Northern Ireland must reform its relationships and sex education in schools, review its charity laws, and ensure no-one speaking out against harms caused by religious ideology is silenced."

Image by Kleiton Santos from Pixabay

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