Peter Bone is the Member of Parliament for Wellingborough. Follow Peter on Twitter.
The issue of the state interfering with religion has raised its ugly head once more. It is not the redefinition of marriage or interfering with the ability of the Church of England to run its own affairs. No it is a much more dangerous issue that threatens not just the Christian Church but all recognised religious groups in this country, the dwindling recognition by the state that religious institutions are a public benefit and should be considered charities.
The Charity Commission has recently removed the charitable status of the Preston Down Trust, a member of the Plymouth Brethren, claiming that they are not a public benefit and therefore cannot have charitable status. A religious group that has been classed as a charity for decades, that has raised money for good causes and supported its local communities has had its status removed because the Charity Commission does not see access to worship and the advancement of religion as a public benefit anymore. This is another sign of a growing secular movement against religious groups in this country and another example of the state interfering with the church. The Charity Commission does not and should not have the power to decide what religion is good or bad, its role should be to assist religious groups in fulfilling their charitable roles not condemning them.
Today, Wednesday 19th December, I will be presenting a 10 Minute Rule Bill on the floor of the House to amend the Charities Act 2011. This will reintroduce the presumption that religious institutions are of a public benefit and therefore eligible for charitable status, as they have been considered for hundreds of years dating back to the Charitable Uses Act of 1601. The Charities Act 2006, which was consolidated into the Charities Act 2011, removed the presumption that religious institutions should be considered a public benefit.
Religious institutions continue to play a vital role in the Charitable sector with 29,000 charities committed to the advancement of religion, that’s about 15% of the charitable sector. The reintroduction of the presumption for religious institutions to be considered a public benefit and therefore have charitable status would not mean an automatic renewal of charitable status, but an acknowledgement of the role religious institutions play in our society.
Scam churches, dangerous cults or terrorist promoting groups should be banned by other existing legislation not by withdrawing their charitable status. Those types of organisations need to be shut down not just have their tax status withdrawn.
The liberal, secular elite of the Charity Commission are on a very dangerous path of restricting religious freedom. If this government truly believes in religious freedoms then respecting the advancement of religion as a public benefit should be acknowledged, as before, and the Charities Act 2011 amended.
On Monday I delivered a letter Number 10 Downing Street with 113 Member of Parliament’s signatures from across the House to express their deep concern at the Charity Commission’s current posture on registering religious institutions as charities. I hope the Prime Minister and the Government will take action against this growing secular hostility towards religious freedoms and ensure the Charity Commission does not continue its war against charitable religious institutions.