The Charity Commission is “committed to the suppression” of religion, a Conservative MP has warned.
Charlie Elphicke’s stark warning came as members of the Plymouth Brethren gave evidence before a parliamentary select committee earlier this week.
The Commission has refused to grant the Plymouth Brethren charitable status, claiming that they do not provide public benefit.
During the hearing earlier this week Mr Elphicke asked the Plymouth Brethren if they thought the Commission was “actively trying to suppress religion in the UK, particularly the Christian religion”.
The MP for Dover added: “I think they (the Commission) are committed to the suppression of religion and you are the little guys being picked on to start off a whole series of other churches who will follow you there.”
Garth Christie, a Plymouth Brethren elder, told the Public Administration Select Committee that the decision was “very odd”.
Fellow elder Bruce Hazell pointed out a number of benefits the Plymouth Brethren provide to the public.
He noted that the group, which has 16,000 members, takes part in activities such as street preaching, distributing literature, giving away food and drinks and visiting people in hospital.
Bernard Jenkin MP said the Commission seemed to be using the group as a test case to establish the meaning of the public benefit requirement in charity law.
He warned: “Whatever the merits or demerits of the Charity Commission’s view, this process of testing the law on a relatively vulnerable organisation and putting it through huge time and expense is the wrong way to decide what charity law means.”
But Labour MP Paul Flynn said it was “ridiculous” to suggest that Christians in Britain suffer discrimination.
The dispute between the Brethren and the Commission has been going on for seven years. Mr Christie noted that the Brethren had been forced to waste hundreds of thousands of pounds arguing their case.