Regulator OKs misogyny, homophobia at Scottish religious charities

Posted: Mon, 13th Mar 2023

Regulator OKs misogyny, homophobia at Scottish religious charities

The National Secular Society is calling for reforms to charity law in Scotland after the charity regulator said it cannot stop religious charities promoting misogyny and homophobia.

The NSS said charity regulation needs "urgent review" after the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) refused to intervene on charities which posted homophobic memes on Facebook and published a sermon saying housework is the "primary function" of women.

In its letter to the cabinet secretary for social justice, housing and local government Shona Robison MSP, the NSS urged her to take action "to ensure organisations cannot exploit the benefits of the charity sector to promote intolerance, hatred or discrimination".

It argued that the charitable purpose of "the advancement of religion" should be reviewed, as it provides a "loophole" for charities to promote misogynistic and homophobic ideology.

OSCR: No action on bigoted views "held by virtue of a manifestation of a religious belief"

The NSS reported Moray Coast Baptist Church to OSCR after finding a sermon on its website which said women should submit to male authority.

In the sermon dated 2021, the church's pastor Donald Clough said "it's not fitting or proper for a woman to exercise authority over men" and that 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 NSS said such statements are in breach of OSCR's guidance which states registered charities "must actively provide benefit". An organisation may fail the charity test if it causes "likely detriment or harm".

In response, OSCR said it there are "insufficient regulatory grounds" for it to act because the matter "is not of a regulatory nature".

It added: "The views expressed are likely to be held by virtue of a manifestation of a religious belief. Religious beliefs are protected under the Equality Act 2010."

OSCR also refused to take action against East Kilbride Christadelphian Ecclesia last year after the NSS reported the charity for promoting homophobia and anti-vaccine conspiracies on Facebook. It said it could not take action because it concluded the views expressed by the charity "are in accordance with their religious beliefs".

In its letter to Shona Robison, the NSS said that while the Equality Act protects all individualsfrom discrimination, it does not protect the beliefsthemselves because this would "essentially impose a 'blasphemy' code on wider society."

Adding that both sex and sexual orientation are also protected characteristics, it said: "We fail to understand why OSCR has apparently decided that religion should be prioritised over these protected characteristics by failing to prevent charities from promoting ideas which are clearly discriminatory to women and LGBT people."

'The advancement of religion'

Charity law in Scotland recognises 13 "charitable purposes", one of which is "the advancement of religion". Both Moray Coast Baptist Church and East Kilbride Christadelphian Ecclesia are registered under this purpose.

The NSS said the charitable purpose of "the advancement of religion" is "exceptionalising" religious charities, allowing them to promote extremist ideas where charities registered under other purposes would not be able to do so.

It urged Robison to review this charitable purpose, and to work with OSCR to ensure no charities can promote misogyny, homophobia or any other extremism, whatever their religious ethos.

Last week the Scottish government opened a consultation on criminalising misogynistic behaviour. The proposals include an offence of "stirring up hatred against women and girls".

Robison "committed" to reviewing charity regulation

In her response to the NSS in February, Robinson said: "The Scottish Government is clear that everyone is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and to freedom of expression.

"But these do not confer a right to act in a way that negates the human rights of other members of society."

She added that she has "committed to conducting a review of charity regulation in Scotland" and that work will begin "later this year".

NSS: Government must stop 'feeding intolerance' of religious charities through tax breaks

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "OSCR's inability to stop charities promoting homophobia and misogyny simply because they're religious is worrying. The charitable purpose of 'the advancement of religion' has created a religious loophole to allow the promotion of bigotry."

"Fundamentalist religious beliefs about sex and sexuality frequently form the basis for attitudes which lead to discrimination, abuse and violence against women and LGBT people.

"If the government is serious about tackling hate and promoting true equality for all in Scotland, it must stop feeding the intolerance promoted by religious organisations by cutting off their tax breaks and removing their charitable status.

"Religion is no excuse for treating women and LGBT people as second class citizens."

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Tags: Charity, LGBT, Women