The National Secular Society (NSS) has called a charity panel’s decision to uphold the charitable status of a pro-marriage adoption agency, “bizarre and politically motivated”.
A barrister however has described the NSS’ comments as “wild accusations”, explaining that the Scottish Charity Appeals Panel (SCAP) is an independent legal tribunal.
The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) has said it will not appeal the ruling in favour of St Margaret’s adoption agency, after it had sought to revoke their charitable status because the group prioritises placing children with married couples.
NSS spokesman for Scotland, Alistair McBay, wrote to the Scotsman to say that the SCAP was dismissing “unlawful discrimination” as “irrelevant” in overturning the OSCR’s findings.
He proposed that the Scottish Government should “examine the workings of the Scottish Charity Appeals Panel to determine its fitness for purpose”.
It should then stand by the “original and correct decisions” of the OCSR and instruct St Margaret’s “to cease this discrimination forthwith”, Mr McBay added.
But Neil Addison, who is a barrister and legal author, said in a letter to the Scotsman that Mr McBay should “study what the law actually says” before making such claims.
Mr Addison said: “The panel is an independent legal tribunal which heard evidence and legal argument over several days and gave a detailed legal decision quoting the Equality Act, Human Rights Act and Charity Law.
“It made a legal judgment, not a political decision”, he said.
Mr Addison explained that the SCAP had accepted St Margaret’s was “entitled to rely” on “specific legal exemptions for religious organisations” which are provided in the Equality Act.
The OSCR last year told the adoption agency to change its policy of prioritising the placement of children with heterosexual married couples, or be removed from the charity register.
But in January this year the SCAP said the agency’s actions are a justifiable and “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.
The case against St Margaret’s followed a complaint from the National Secular Society which led to the OSCR claiming that the charity was breaching the Equality Act 2010.
A spokesman for St Margaret’s said after the SCAP ruling: “We are delighted and relieved that the threat hanging over us has been lifted.
“Our only wish is to continue to do the good work for which we have been recognised by the authorities, of placing children in need of families with loving parents.”