- The Charities Act 2006 aimed to enshrine key principles from case law in statute.
- The 2006 Act also increased the powers of the Charity Commission and expanded the categories of organisation which can be given charitable status.
- The Charity Commission has claimed that the Act ends the presumption that churches and religious organisations are for the ‘public benefit’. However, senior lawyers dispute this and the Commission has lost key court cases on its interpretation of ‘public benefit’.1
- The Commission asks religious charities to state how they provide ‘public benefit’ to obtain or maintain their charitable status.
- Much of the 2006 Act has since been incorporated into the Charities Act 2011.
Christian freedoms and heritage
Christianity is the largest faith represented in the UK. Whatever conclusions can be drawn from the fact that the majority of the population claim a Christian religious allegiance, it is obvious that many of the major tenets of secular humanism are denied by the vast bulk of the population. As such, it is important that legislation reflects Christian principles. (See Christian Freedoms and Heritage apologetic).
Christians are commanded to share the gospel
Jesus’ final command to his followers before his ascension was that they should “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15) and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Telling others about Christ and his teachings is central to the Christian life (1 Peter 3:15-16). The Christian Institute is particularly concerned to protect cross-cultural missionary organisations. Opponents of the gospel could claim that such organisations are not providing public benefit because they are seeking to convert those of other faiths.
Public benefit and Christian morality
Moral living is an essential aspect of Christian life and proclamation. Current trends in society are towards secularisation and a liberalising of morality. It is important that Christian organisations are able to continue to hold traditional views on moral issues without having their charitable status threatened. The Bible teaches that God remains the same (Malachi 3:6, James 1:17) and therefore the moral standards required of those who seek to obey Him remain the same. Many Christian charities consider themselves to have a counter-cultural role, trying to arrest the moral slide of society and certainly not going along with it. Judging them by “modern social conditions” in order to assess their public benefit, as the Charity Commission once suggested, is therefore entirely inappropriate because they have moral standards that do not change with society.2 (On Christian morality see, for example, The Sanctity of Life and Marriage and the Family apologetics.)
Christian charities make a valuable contribution to society
Christian charities have for centuries been part of British culture, pioneering much charitable work motivated by Christian beliefs. The Bible encourages people to look beyond their selfish selves to the needs of others, and therefore the promotion of the Christian faith as a charitable purpose is a wellspring of much good: the desire to help others stems from religious belief. Good works are in fact an ‘article of faith’ and test of adherence in Christianity. Christians have a duty to love their neighbour and this is seen in the huge amount of Christian charitable activity undertaken. Much of the care of those on the fringes of society is done by Christian organisations. Making it more difficult to obtain charitable status would reduce this essential work.
Religious charities cannot be forced into a secular mould
There are many reasons why religious charities cannot be treated with a secular ‘one size fits all’ approach to public benefit, including:
- The primary benefit is spiritual, which cannot be assessed by secular standards.
- What believers may consider as an important public benefit (e.g. praying for the world) is not considered to be so in secular terms.
- Religious belief necessarily involves the conflict of ideas; religious charities promote beliefs which others (including other religious charities) strongly dispute. This should not be treated as a ‘detriment or harm’ but as a key element of a free society.
- 1Luxton, P, ‘A Three-Part Invention: Public Benefit Under the Charity Commission’, The Charity Law & Practice Review, 11(2), 2009, pages 19-33; Hackney, J, ‘Charities and Public Benefit’, The Law Quarterly Review, vol. 124, July 2008, pages 347-350; The Independent Schools Council v The Charity Commission for England and Wales  UKUT 421 (TCC) at para. 83; Attorney General v Charity Commission for England and Wales and others  FTC/84/2011 at paras 35-39
- 2Consultation on Draft Public Benefit Guidance, Charity Commission, February 2007, section D2