Reform charity laws

Reform charity laws

Page 8 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 told group accused of antisemitism to register as charity

Regulator told group accused of antisemitism to register as charity

Posted: Thu, 17 Aug 2023 13:55

Cricklewood Muslim Youth Trust warned Muslims to "Keep away from the enemies of Allaah [sic] the Jews & Christians"

New religious charity promotes ‘witch hunting’ sermon

New religious charity promotes ‘witch hunting’ sermon

Posted: Mon, 24 Jul 2023 12:57

The National Secular Society has expressed concerns about a newly registered Christian charity which promoted a sermon on 'witch hunting'.

Mountain Of Fire And Miracles Ministries Belfast, which registered with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland last month, shared details about a sermon on "five kinds of witches or familiar spirits" on its Facebook page in April (pictured).

The sermon, available on YouTube, was delivered by pastor Daniel Kolawole Olukoya, who founded Mountain of Fire And Miracles (MFM) Ministries in Nigeria.

The National Secular Society has warned promoting these ideas could lead to the 'spiritual abuse' of children and vulnerable adults accused of being witches.

Pastor says people may be "unconscious" witches, 'exorcises' them

In the sermon, thought to be held in Nigeria, Olukoya says people can become witches if their parents are witches, or by being "initiated" by witches without their knowledge by sharing food with them.

Olukoya appears to 'exorcise' the audience by telling them to "receive your deliverance in the name of Jesus".

He then tells a story of a pastor who was "unconsciously initiated" because "his dad was a wizard", and was attacked by demons. He says: "I am praying for anyone here suffering from unconscious initiation to be set free by the power and the blood of Jesus" before 'exorcising' them again.

The National FGM Centre, which aims to protect children from abuse linked to faith or belief, has identified belief in "witchcraft and spirit possession" as a motive for abuse.

Figures suggest thousands of children in the UK are victims of abuse linked to witchcraft beliefs.

Some children have died through witchcraft abuse. They include Victoria Climbie, who was tortured to death in 2000 at the age of eight by her great aunt and her partner in London after a Christian preacher convinced them Victoria was possessed.

And in 2015, eight-year-old Ayesha Ali was killed by her mother and partner in London after being accused of being a witch.

Church criticised for role in witch-hunts and 'conversion therapy'

Mountain Of Fire And Miracles Ministries has been criticised by Nigerian human rights advocate Leo Igwe for promoting witch-hunting through its international network of churches. In Nigeria and other parts of west Africa, mob violence and persecution based on witch accusations are frequent. Last month a man was arrested in Nigeria's Bauchi State after he poured kerosene on a girl and set her on fire after accusing her of witchcraft.

MFM has also been criticised for practising 'gay conversion therapy' in the UK. In 2017 an investigation found a Liverpool branch of Mountain of Fire and Miracles offered 'gay cure' sessions involving intense prayer and starvation.

In another Facebook post last year, MFM Minstries Belfast's pastor Raphael Olushola Peters lists "homosexual relations" alongside "offering children as sacrifices" and "sexual relations with animals" as "abominable things" which "lead to diseases, deformity and death" and "disrupt family life and society".

MFM Ministries Belfast is registered under the charitable purpose of "the advancement of religion".

Northern Ireland Charity Commission guidance says charities' purposes "must be beneficial, not harmful". But the Commission has previously refused to penalise an NI charity promoting a form of "change orientated therapy" for gay people, despite evidence that 'conversion therapy' can be extremely harmful.

MFM Ministries Belfast says the "direct benefits" of the charity are "Religious worship to members and the public providing emotional upliftment". It says: "We do not foresee any harm from our activities".

In 2019 the Charity Commission for England and Wales appointed an interim manager to MFM Ministries International due to financial and administration concerns.

NSS: Witch-hunting ideology "can lead to extreme harm"

NSS campaigns officer Alejandro Sanchez said: "This charity is registered under 'the advancement of religion'. But the type of religion advanced through this sermon is clearly not in the public interest.

"Charities are meant to benefit the public. But promoting the idea that some people can be 'witches' possessed by evil spirits can lead to extreme harm to children and vulnerable adults.

"If 'the advancement of religion' enables charities to promote the superstitions fuelling witchcraft abuse, this charitable purpose must be urgently reviewed. No charity, religious or not, should be allowed to promote ideology which fuels child abuse."

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