I must be either very tired or very stupid tonight, but I just read the rules for setting up a charity in Australia. And they don't make any sense to me.

From the website http://www.olgr.nsw.gov.au/charitable_info_start_charity.asp
For example:
What are charitable purposes?
Charitable purposes can be grouped under four main headings:

* the relief of financial hardship
* the advancement of education
* the advancement of religion
* other charitable purposes for the benefit of the community


And directly below it:
What are examples of non-charitable purposes which are often mistaken for charitable organisations?
The following are examples of organisations or purposes which are often assumed to be charitable, but in fact are not:

* sports clubs set up to benefit their members (as distinct from sports facilities open for everyone or specifically provided for special groups of people, such as young people)
* the promotion of political or propagandist purposes, or the promotion of a particular point of view
* purposes which include arrangements where people running the organisation get significant personal benefit

---------------------------------------
Notice point 3 and point 2 respectively.
One of the only ways to be called a charity is to advance a religion. Advance - spread - grow.
But on the other hand promoting a particular point of view like, say, spreading the idea of No God is against the rules!!!

Look again - it doesn't say religious good works - feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless. It says the advancement of religion - growing the numbers - spreading it around.

Am I reading that right?
How the hell is the advancement of religion NOT promotion of a particular point of view???
And is an Atheist charity impossible in this country?

Simon

Tags: Atheist, charity

Views: 10

Replies to This Discussion

We would have to make atheism a religion and that's not something I signed up for.

I'm with you Simon, those guidelines are depressing reading. Religious charities have such an easy ride in Australia. I'm happy for charities that directly work for the betterment of people, the human condition, animals or the environment to be given tax exempt and charity status but for a religious organisation to be given that lucrative legal category just for spreading its' crappy "good news" or whatever......it makes me ill.

Sadly I can only think of one solution to this and it's wildly improbable that I can carry it off.

As Dr Horrible says:
“It’s all about the status quo….. the status is not quo….. the world is a mess and I just… have to rule it!”

Regards,
Limber
Perhaps we all need to sign up as Pastafarians, or Jedi, or some such.

I for one am completely dumbfounded by this confusing contradiction.
Hi Alan - below are some of the observations on this issue we made in our 2009 submission to the Human Rights Commission (pp. 30-32):

The Advancement of Religion as a Charitable Act

On 1 May, 1984, Liberal Party Senator, David Hamer, asked whether it would be
practicable ‘to separate, for tax concession purposes, the charitable activities of a
religious body from its other activities’. Labor Senator, Peter Walsh, replied:
I believe there would be considerable practical difficulty in separating the
charitable activities of a religious body from other activities. Legally, the
advancement of religion is a charitable activity.

This ancient ruling creates an impediment to reform which, we believe, must be removed.
The Statute of Elizabeth I of 1601 created four heads of charity:

 the relief of poverty;
 the advancement of education;
 the advancement of religion, and;
 other purposes beneficial to the community

Historically, monarchs and churches have been tax-exempt. The inclusion of religion as
a charitable cause was tested in the 1891 Privy Council Pemsel case in which the United
Brethren sought to have tax exemption for its activities among ‘heathen nations’. In a
split decision, the council found the extension of Christianity to other cultures was a form
of charity. This decision entrenched into modern law the idea that the ‘advancement of
religion’ was, in itself, a charitable aim. In the 21st century, we find it offensive that the
State considers the conversion of ‘heathens’ through the ‘advancement of religion’ as a
charitable act!

Following the Pemsel ruling, Australian law holds that any religion that satisfies the High
Court’s 1983 definition of religion30 (Australian Tax Office, 1983) is eligible for taxexempt
status. The major criteria for legal status as a religion are: a belief in a
supernatural being, thing or principle, and; canons of conduct that give effect to that
belief. There are some additional requirements: an organisation seeking to be recognized
as a religion must have a building, be paying a stipend to a minister or similar, have a
congregation, perform rituals and be open to the public. As long as they comply with
these conditions, an entity has legal standing as a religion and is, by virtue of that fact
alone, a charity. The organisation does not actually have to perform any service to the
community at large. Of course, even if a group of atheists was able to meet all of the
other requirements, they would fail to meet the criteria for tax exemption, they hold no
supernatural beliefs.

So, we have the absurd position in which our legal system accepts, without question, that
all religions are charitable, and our tax system exempts them on that basis – without
anyone actually verifying whether these organizations actually benefit society.
Of course, we recognize that many aspects of religion are charitable, moral and ethical,
but we wish to argue that there is nothing intrinsic to the legal definition of religion
which ensures that these qualities exist in our religious institutions.

Does belief in a supernatural deity necessarily imply that an organization benefits the
community? Is religion really innately good? While some religious organizations do a
great deal of genuine charitable work, others do little. Some churches use public money
responsibly, while others exploit the system to line the pockets of their clergy. Some
churches welcome new members with no thought of monetary gain. Others are clearly
money-making enterprises which seek to remove as much money from their followers as
possible. Some religious institutions embrace ecumenicalism and provide a wide range
of secular services to the wider community, while others (Christian churches included)
are insular and intolerant. While most religious institutions support ‘family values’, some
encourage family break-ups and parental estrangement. There is no doubt that church
attendance is a positive experience for many, but the effects are not universal. For many,
involvement with Australia’s religious institutions has proven a negative and, in some
cases, psychologically damaging experience. (See Section 7.10 for a detailed summary
of these issues.)

You can read more here.
And is an Atheist charity impossible in this country?

I don't think so. Such a charity would be covered by "other charitable purposes for the benefit of the community". As to "the promotion of political or propagandist purposes, or the promotion of a particular point of view" not being a charitable purpose, I think that's fairly narrowly defined.

It also depends on the purpose of the Atheist charity. I don't think there would be a problem if its aim was to promote secularism and ration thinking in the community, and to provide financial support to such causes.

Much ado about nothing, I think.

But I do agree that "the advancement of religion" - in and of itself - is a ridiculous justification for charitable status. It is a justification that ought be removed. Any worthwhile activity performed by a religious institution is going to be covered by the other three justifications, and they can classed as a charitable organisation based on that.

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