Friday, February 16, 2007


GOP On Al Franken: A Stirring Tribute to An American Hero

Republicans Reach Across The Lines For Franken

Well done to Minnesota Republicans! Their 'research briefing' on Al Franken is an exceptional tribute to the man's passion, insight and wit. Just a few examples:

Franken Hates Rush Limbaugh
Q: “Do you really hate Limbaugh or is he just an easy target?”
(Jennifer Senior, “Al Franken, Democrats' Favorite Comic Is Politically Incorrect,” The Hill, August 25, 1996)

Franken Plan To Reduce Debt: Blast The Elderly In Rockets Over Snake River And Put It OnPay-Per-View.
“Every Sunday, we put an elderly (or terminally ill-person) in a rocket, fire it over the Snake River, and put it on pay-per-view. The revenues go straight into reducing the debt.” (Al Franken, Rush Limbaugh Is A Big, Fat Idiot, Island Books, p. 139, 1996)

Franken Called President George H.W. Bush A “Dink.”
“And when the networks projected GeorgeBush as the 41st president, comedian Al Franken took to the stage to cheer up the crowd. The Dukakis campaign has asked me to tell you that the views I express here tonight are not the views of the Dukakis campaign, but my own,’ deadpanned the "Saturday Night Live" entertainer-writer. ‘Now that I've got that settled, let me ask you ... " Long pause for effect. ‘ISN'T GEORGE BUSH A DINK?’” (Lois Romano, “Finally! The Fat Lady Sings; In Boston, The Dank Specter Of Defeat,” The Washington Post, November 9, 1988)

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Charity Law and Religious Charities

A letter to the National Secular Society's 'Newsline':

Dear Newsline -

You mentioned in the last issue that the Tukala 'demonisation' ('kindoki') case was again reported by Newsnight on 25 January.

This particular preacher, Tukala, has been mentioned in the press in connection with various allegations before (do a google search!). The case follows a number of such incidents and reports, the most famous of which is the Climbie case. I suggest that there are three issues for secularists to investigate and act upon:

1) Campaign for the crimalisation of accusations of witchcraft, 'kindoki', demon possession etc.. against children. (I.E., accusations that children are controlled by supernatural (or other) entities to commit or cause harm).

It seems that such acts must be illegal separately from other child protection legislation if they are to be effective. The fact that more mainstream churches continue to formally profess theological adherence to such possibilities does not, of course, affect the secular position. However, it may mean that some compromise is necessary to get the measure enacted:

The real issue is immediate action to prevent harm to children, so perhaps e.g. the Catholic Church would need to be allowed to retain a theoretical belief in the possibility of exorcism even if, in practice, this would in future have to be conducted under the supervision of medical professionals and child protection authorities and, therefore, vanishingly unlikely to occur, given the opportunity it would provide for further protest.

2) Challenge the Charity Commission's failure to oversee religious charities, particularly focusing on the most conspicuous financial benefit of charitable status: Gift Aid.

I do not think that the 'Church' involved in the Tukala case has charitable status. (Although this is certainly worth investigating: perhaps it has a different name, or people connected with it are involved with other bodies which are registered.) However, at least two of the ‘churches’ most associated with the Victoria Climbie case are still registered as charities, and one of them at least has received 'Gift Aid' in upper 6-figures in the last two years.

('Gift Aid' is money paid out from public funds by the Inland Revenue. it is supposed to represent a refund of UK income tax previously paid by charitable donors on the sums they are giving. Some, but not all, charities publish their Gift Aid receipts in their accounts accessible on the Charity Commission home page). It would be a very powerful challenge to the current disposition if it were shown to the general public that public money is being spent in the promotion of faith-healing or, for example, scientology.

A striking example of the Charity Commission's (CC's) failure to oversee religious charities is the activities of the Christian Institute (CI). NSS members will be aware, for example, of the CI's recent opposition to the Sexual Orientation Regulations.

The CI appears to expend by far the majority of it effort on activities which come under the definition of 'Political Activity' in the CC's leaflet, CC9:

"Political activity means any activity that is directed at securing, or opposing, any change in the law or in the policy or decisions of central government or local authorities, whether in this country or abroad." "24. Where political activities do begin to dominate the activities of the charity, an issue will arise as to whether the charity trustees are acting outside their trusts. In exceptional cases this might also lead us to reconsider whether the organisation should ever have been registered as a charity, or whether it was in fact established for non-charitable political purposes."

The CI is a political organisation. This is clear from its annual reports (available here - ): the overwhelming preponderance of the organisation’s concerns are to do with legislation or other policy or decisions of Government. A brief glance at the most recent produces the following list: BBC Charter; Family Law (Scotland) Bill; Civil Partnership Act; Incitement to Religious Hatred Act; Equality Bill; Gender Recognition Act; Sex Discrimination Act; Legalisation of Prostitution; Gambling Act; The General Election (!!); etc..

The CI is not especially malicious (certainly compared with the activities of some religous bodies). It contributes to political debate about matters of public interest, tending towards a hard right stance. But it nevertheless would appear to grossly transgress the principle that political organizations cannot be charities. This principle is derived from the logic that political debate exists in areas where the public benefit is not decided.The legal positions the CI fights for (such as opposition to Gay Rights) are ones about which the question of whether they are for the public benefit is most certainly not decided. The matters are surely political, both in the ordinary sense of the word and the narrow one defined by the relevant legislation and guidance which the Commission is meant to be upholding. It should be noted that organisations which lobby for contrary views to the Christian Institute do not have the advantage of charitable status and, unlike the CI, do not receive Gift Aid.

3) Challenge the Inland Revenue (IR) on its distribution of Gift Aid: I have a FOI response from IR in which they say that, in cases where charities are registrable (not all are), registration has always been accepted as proof of charitable status. Firstly, and this is a difficult subject about which I am certainly not an expert, I think that public bodies cannot legally rely on the decisions of other bodies when they are supposed to be responsible themselves. Secondly, the question of how much oversight there is of the income tax status of the donors is worth looking into. I suggest that there are cases where the proportion of gift aid receipts against total donations is remarkably high.

I hope these suggestions are of interest to readers.


Thursday, November 02, 2006


Mark Goldstraw: Honor Killing and its Consequences

Mark Goldstraw has just been sentenced to a minimum of 35 years. He killed his ex-girlfriend and three other people because he was angry at her. Previously, he killed another ex-girlfriend by hitting her with a hammer. For this he was sentenced to "seven years" and served about three.

This blog has dealt with the question of the 'manslaughter' of women before. There have been some shocking examples, particularly Paul Dalton, who dismembered his wife, put her in a freezer, and fled the country. (He got two years for the killing, which was described as an 'entirely appropriate' sentence by the Court of Appeal when prosecutors appealed.) The Guardian carried out the grim but necessary task of recording 68 related cases in the UK in 2005.

When such killings are not carried out by pale-skinned men of European origin, they are often called 'honor killing'. More honest legal systems accept that the killing of women over whom one has a proprietal relationship, such as wives or daughters, is not the same as 'murder' and should not be treated as such.

A UN report listed countries with such laws in 2002:

"legislative provisions allowing for partial or complete defence in that context could be found in the penal codes of Argentina, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Peru, the Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, Venezuela and the West Bank."

Media reports tend to concentrate exclusively on those countries with the misfortune to be influenced by Islam (despite the terrible situation with regard to violence against women in Guatemala, for example). Jordan's law ("Article 340") has been the focus of considerable international attention, not merely because of the level of violence against women in the country, but because of its Parliament's repeated refusal to change it (emphasis added):

“..he who discovers his wife or one of his female relatives committing adultery with another, and he kills, wounds or injures one or both of them, is exempt from any penalty”.

“he who discovers his wife, or one of his female ascendants or descendants or sisters with another in an unlawful bed and he kills, wounds or injures one or both of them, benefits from a reduction of penalty.”

A 6 month prison sentence is typical for those who kill females unfortunate enough to be in one these relationships to an angry male. There is intermittent international condemnation. Human Rights Watch has a full report.

Many might also think that the lesser sentences routinely given to men who kill in this way in the UK is a BAD thing too. Unfortunately, however, there is nothing clear-cut to campaign against.

The obvious starting point is to scrap 'manslaughter' as a legal concept. (This doesn't seem unreasonable to me. There are many other cases where its application has been outrageous. I reported some on this site).

However, this isn't going to happen. 'Manslaughter' is a reasonable concept in some cases, for example, where the culprit is mentally ill. There are also legal grey areas where less-culpable killing SHOULD be recognised and 'manslaughter' might provide an option for juries: For example, when a woman who is the victim of years of abuse fights back, or in the case of 'mercy' killing.

Cases of men who 'snap' (a psychological event that may well be more likely in men than women, and clearly more likely to result in serious harm, owing to their greater physical strength) cannot be such a case of lower culpability. Especially when they've been violent before.

This site has suggested a solution - 'Ape's Law' which says:

1) 'Manslaughter', as an alternative finding to murder in cases of mitigated voluntary killing, should be unavailable to anyone with a previous conviction for violence, or any history of serious violence against the victim whether convicted for it or not. [To achieve this, a sentencing rule could be introduced to the effect that those convicted of manslaughter in such cases be sentenced as though they had been convicted of murder. "Life imprisonment" is already an option available to the judge in manslaughter cases: it should be used more].

2) Any residual element of a 'crime of passion' defence should be removed through direction to the jury. 'Passion' (ie, anger) is properly regarded as evidence of guilt, not a partial defence as to intent.


Friday, September 29, 2006


Jonathan Richman European Tour Dates

The JR fanclub note finally landed on my doormat:

Oct 9 Reyjavik ICELAND Idno Theatre (monday)
Oct 12 Glasgow SCOTLAND Oran Mor (thurs)
Oct 13 Newcastle ENGLAND Church Hall (fri)
Oct 15 Cambridge ENGLAND Cambridge Junction (sun)
Oct 16 London ENGLAND Union Chapel (mon)
Oct 17 Paris FRANCE Trebendo (tues)
Oct 20 Rome Italy Big Mama (fri)
Oct 26 Leon ITALY University (thurs)
Oct 27 Madrid SPAIN Circulo Bellas Artes (fri)
Nov 1 Guadalajara Spain Teatro Moderno (weds)
Nov 2 Barcelona SPAIN ??? (thurs)
Nov 3 Valencia SPAIN Black Note CLub (fri)

Monday, May 15, 2006


Cleaning the Muck out of the Big Tent: The Truth about the BNP

Two Phones are not Better Than One

You'll have seen many discussions of why the BNP are 'on the rise'. A common explanation is that Labour no longer represent the working class. (So says Labour MPs Frank Field, and Margaret Hodge, for example.)

In general, the matter is supposed to be the result of some failure somewhere. Hodge is concerned that the people feel unloved:

"The Labour Party hasn't talked to these people. This is a traditional Labour area but they are not used to engaging with us because all we do is put leaflets through doors. Part of the reason they switch to the BNP is they feel no one else is listening to them".

Tony Parsons is even clearer on who to blame, writing in the Mirror:

"IT IS not the white working class who have abandoned the Labour Party - it's the other way around. Was there ever a political party more out of touch with the people who built it? Tony Blair, not Nick Griffin, is the architect of the rise and rise of the British National Party."

These explanations (or 'excuses') are transparently wrong and frankly inane. For what it's worth, people seem to parrot them because they wish to imply that they share assumptions about the inherent qualities of a thing called the 'working class'.

In truth, racists vote for racist parties. Has any analysis been published which shows that the recent tiny electoral success of the BNP's brilliant racial theorists is actually based around people who voted for Labour last time?

The more likely reason is that racists, previously serenely content about the matter, are no longer sure that the Tories represent them. Former Tory Councillor Robert West, as of today, a BNP Councillor, concurs:

"(Robert West) said his switch was prompted by Conservative leader David Cameron's priority list of candidates for the next general election. He said the list excluded white male candidates in favour of women, non-whites, homosexuals and lesbians."

What horrors!

There is no better symbol of West's beloved, vanishing Tory Party than 'two phones' Ed Griffin (father of BNP ubergrupenfuhrer Nick): One of his house phones was the Tory campaign hotline, the other was for the BNP. As he pointed out in his defence, back in 2001:

"The two parties are almost the same in terms of long-term plans. In terms of manifestos of the Tories and the BNP, you can hardly tell the difference."

It was clear that everyone knew, even if they didn't say it, that the Conservative Party had two phones in its heart.

So what are we to make of the current, ahem, 'rise'* of the far right?

The answer is that the Tories, and the other parties, should be proud. It's an excellent result if voters are driven to vote for the BNP because of their 'dissatisfaction with mainstream politics'.

We should expect mainstream politics to be extremely dissatisfying for racists and our concern should be that it becomes much more so still.

Perhaps David Cameron has unplugged the phone. Well done to him.

*The BNP has moved slightly ahead of the Greens to challenge 'Residents Associations' for 4th place in England's town halls. (Are we concerned about the rise of the resident?) In national elections, it has around 0.7%, along with the Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein and Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


The Euston Manifesto

Is, for the first time, launched!

I,, being herein the undersigned, declareth that, having hitherto been underrepresented in the corridors of power, in the first place, agree that good things are mostly beneficial and less things not.

And that these noble sentiments are valid in all times and places. Not like what this bloke said that used to hand out Living Marxism outside the union when I was a student and is still saying it. And in the second place, that this declaration is very important. And solemn.

And thirdly that the tyranny that this bloke has had over the progressive and 'left-leaning' green-red tendency movement and the right-left consensus owing to the poor impression given not least by his bad-smelling trousers as well as his actual views in the minds of unidentified third parties is, by this sign, defeated.

Please accept my apologies for this post. Particularly its shortness. I appear to have accidentally got some political opinions mixed up with Hitchens' whisky sick.

Friday, May 05, 2006


The Charitable Status of The Christian Institute

(Letter sent, with accompanying evidence, to the Charity Commission March 2006, see end of post for its response. Related documents to follow).

1) Introduction and Definitions: Campaigning and Political Activities by Charities

a) This is a complaint against the charitable status of The Christian Institute (CI) (Registered Charity No. 1004774) on the grounds that it is a political organisation that uses wholly (or almost wholly) political means to achieve its ends.

b) The complaint is not primarily motivated by opposition to the CI in particular, or knowledge of its hidden wrongdoings. On the contrary, the facts are all in the public realm. The CI is a particularly public example of a problem with the law and the Charity Commission’s (CC’s) role in dealing with the concepts of ‘public benefit’ and the ‘advancement of religion’. This is an opportune time to be raising this matter. Religious activities such as ‘exorcism’, ‘faith healing’, hate speech and the ritual mutilation of children are rightly causing public concern. At the same time, the law is to change allow more debate on the charitable cause of ‘advancing religion’.

c) Definitions: The Charity Commission’s guidance note on political campaigning is CC9. It states as follows:

“Organisations that are established to pursue political purposes cannot be charities. The Guidance explains that a charity can be largely or wholly concerned with (non-political) campaigning in the furtherance of its charitable aims.”

The Guidance also emphasizes that ‘where the campaign or activity is of a political nature (i.e. seeking to advocate or oppose a change in the law or public policy), charity trustees must ensure that these activities do not become the dominant means by which they carry out the purposes of the charity.”

2) Political Activities by the Christian Institute

a) The CI is, on the face of it, a political organisation (generally on the right of British politics). The list that follows of its activities and campaigning interests demonstrates that this conclusion would be reached by any reasonable person inspecting the public profile it has created for itself. Indeed, it would be a challenge to find an example of any organisation in Britain that is more political, or what this could mean. Even organisations such as ‘The Labour Party’ and ‘The Conservative Party’ take a break from purely political activities occasionally!

b) It is notable that many or most religious organisations have ‘political’ aspects in a broad sense. That is to say, their activities are likely to affect or attempt to affect the disposition of laws, the organisation of society and the actions of Government and its agencies. At very least, their beliefs are likely to imply particular political ideas.[1]

The CI, however, appears to be specifically and overtly ‘political’ in a more direct, narrowly defined way. It concentrates on lobbying Parliament. In particular, it focuses on affecting the course of Government Bills. It also carries out other overtly political activities, such as campaigning or agitating on the use of legal sanctions, such as the blasphemy laws.

c) Evidence and Assumptions: It is assumed that the CI’s own website ( and the newsletter and other documents it refer to reflect its activities and approach. If this assumption is wildly incorrect then the contentions of this complaint may be false. The list attempts to narrate all activities identifiable from the source documents. Although some repetitions may have been omitted, the list aims for completeness to emphasize the central point of the CI’s forthrightly political nature.

d) Political Activities: These are listed in no particular order, and followed by dates which refer to the attached copies of screenshots from the CI’s website. These screenshots were collected arbitrarily at intermittent points over a period of about 25 months, up till December 2005 (as indicated by the dates).

i) ‘Jerry Springer – the Opera’: Campaign against. (19/12/2005; 18/04/2005; 11/05/2005)
The CI has led a campaign against the performance, broadcast, sale etc. of this piece of musical theatre for some time[2]. Specific activities have included: complaining to the BBC about its broadcast and inciting others to do so; complaining to various retail businesses about its sale and inciting others to do so; and complaining to theatres about its performance and inciting others to do so.

There is nothing wrong with these kinds of activities (whatever the merits of the actual arguments might be). Indeed, noble causes have used such tactics in the past; such as the campaign against Apartheid, or the campaign against Belgian rule in the Congo. However, the point is that it is political activity. The CI is not merely making public representations about its aesthetic or moral assessment of the musical. It is attempting, throughout its efforts, to restrict public access to it.

The CI has attempted to use or affect the use of the long-defunct blasphemy laws as legal sanctions against this particular theatrical product. The CI has suffered no demonstrable harm itself but seeks to affect the operation of legal processes with regard to others[3].

ii) ‘Religious Harassment’: Campaign Against. (19/12/2005; 24/11/2005).
The CI reports its success in encouraging the Government to ‘drop the religious harassment law from the Equality Bill’. This may be a sensible position to have taken. In any case, it is manifestly political in the narrowest sense.

iii) Incitement to Religious Hatred Offence: Campaign Against. (19/12/2005; 24/11/2005; 18/4/2005; 06/07/2005)
All sane and well-meaning people, along with many others, oppose the Government’s Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. The CI goes further than most, and even has a newsletter dedicated to it. This is political activity in the narrowest sense, as it concerns the passage of legislation. It is notable that, along with the House of Lords en masse, the Conservative Party has opposed the Bill and its various failed avatars, so that this is to some degree a party political matter too, since this is a Government Bill which was part of its manifesto.[4]

iv) MP’s Votes: Ongoing List. (19/12/2005; 24/11/2005; esp 18/04/2005; 06/07/2005; 11/05/2005)
The CI keeps an ongoing list of MPs votes on ‘moral issues’ on its website. (These issues are rather eccentrically described as ‘abortion, divorce, religious freedom and homosexual issues’[5].) Once again, it is worth emphasizing that this is a legitimate activity. But it is clearly a political one.

v) Party Manifestos: Analysis. (11/05/2005)
The CI presented an analysis of the main party manifestos ‘in the light of our Christian beliefs.’ Many other organisations conduct such studies. It is a vital part of the democratic political process, in which the CI participates fully.

vi) Legalisation of Prostitution (30/11/2004)
The CI reports and provides ‘briefing’ on the Home Office’s consultation on prostitution.

vii) Civil Partnership Bill: Attempt to influence (30/11/2004; 29/03/2004; 03/06/2004; 24/06/2004)
The CI took out a £20,000 advert in the national press with regard to this manifestly political issue[6] in which it has had a long-running interest.

viii) Children’s Bill: Opposition to ‘Smacking’ Ban (30/11/2004; 05/11/2004; 29/03/2004; 03/06/2004; 24/06/2004)
The CI intervened in this matter too, apparently in relation to an amendment tabled by an MP to ban ‘smacking’.[7]

ix) Gambling Bill (30/11/2004; 18/04/2005; 06/07/2005; 05/11/2004; 29/03/2004)
Another Government Bill, another intervention.[8]

x) OFCOM Proposals on taste and decency (30/11/2004)
The CI had views on this censorship issue. Some of the substantive points of the commentary above, re ‘Jerry Springer’, apply again, i.e., this is an attempt to apply political force, not an expression of opinion.

xi) Gender Recognition Bill/ Transsexual Rights Laws (17/01/2004; 29/03/2004; 24/06/2004)
The CI had views on this too![9]

xii) Hate Crimes Legislation (17/01/2004)
The CI was concerned that “new ‘aggravated offences’ could be used against Christians who speak out against homosexuality”. Again, these were contained in a Government bill.

xiii) Legal Status of Cannabis (24/11/2003; 04/11/2003)
The CI went into detail on Parliament’s actions and MP’s votes on this issue[10].

xiv) Sexual Offences Bill: The Age Of Consent (24/11/2003; 04/11/2003)
The CI issued a press release in response to an opposition amendment on this subject.

xv) Civil Registration: Marriage Certificates (04/11/2003)
The CI seem to have been concerned about some administrative changes proposed by the Government in relation to marriage certificates.

xvi) Hull University Christian Union: Atheist Members (03/06/2004)
Although not narrowly political in the manner of Government Bills, this was still a political concern.

xvii) OTHER SOURCES: Activities and Interests Reported by the CI in Documents Advertised on its Website.

(1) Newsletter, 19/12/2005
The contents is listed as
· Government backs down over Religious Harassment
· Lords’ victory on the Religious Hatred Bill
· Public bodies censor mention of Christianity
· MSPs tone down plans for quicker divorce
· Smacking ban in Scotland rejected
· Are people born gay?
· Massive surge in gambling following new laws
· More..

(2) “Update – Issue 5 August 2004”
The contents is advertised as:
· News on a bid to ban smacking[11]
· Government U-turn on ‘sex change’ Bill
· Latest on ‘gay marriage proposals
· Plans for sweeping deregulation of gambling
· Much more..

(3) “Update – Issue 4 January 2004”
The contents is advertised as:
· New ‘hate crimes’ could gag Christians
· ‘Gay marriage’ bill announced
· New ‘transsexual-rights’ legislation
· Draft euthanasia bill
· Much more..

(4) “Update – Issue 3 March 2003”
The contents is advertised as:
· Squeezing churches – employment laws try to force churches into a secular mould
· Scotland’s new smacking legislation
· Campaign against softer cannabis laws
· Battle for Section 28[12]
· Much more…

xviii) “Update – Issue 1”
The contents is rather surprisingly described as:
“Updating supporters on issues the Christian Institute is working on, including: the physical discipline of children; the EU employment directive and the General Teaching Council’s draft professional code.”

e) Non-political Activities
i) PrayerLine:
The CI always advertises ‘Prayerline’ on its site. This appears to be a telephone information service. Presumably, it is not of a political nature. It probably also takes up only a tiny proportion of the CI’s resources and energies. Private prayer does not qualify for religious status.
ii) Book on the Life of Raymond Johnston
The CI published this book. It may or may not be political as the nature of the subject is unknown.

3) Summary and Expectations:
a) ‘Political’ Campaigning: A Dominant Activity:
The above lists are manifestly a litany of political concerns[13]. Nearly all of it relates closely to the Government’s legislative program. The evidence implies that this kind of lobbying is the CI’s dominant activity.

b) All of these issues relate to ongoing legal and legislative issues which actually effect people’s lives. Many of them are highly controversial. Numerous individuals and organisations argue passionately for and against the Government’s stance on all of them. The CI would no doubt argue that it has a positive influence, and this may be true. But it cannot argue that this is not a political influence.

c) Response to the CI’s Activities: The CI should not have charitable status and may not ever have been eligible.


4) The Charity Commission’s Approach to the Charitable Purpose of ‘Advancing Religion’

a) The political issues which the CI is involved in are all of great significance to British people, especially the large numbers whom they directly affect. However, few will share with CI the advantages and kudos of charitable status. This is the case despite the fact that ALL who make representations on these often-controversial issues believe they are acting for the public benefit. Opponents will naturally imply that each other’s position on each issue is against the public benefit. As is clear from the CC’s guidance, this potential contradiction lies at the heart of the principle that charities cannot be political bodies.

b) Charities can, however, engage in political activities if this is in pursuit of their charitable purposes. In the case of the CI, the public is, at best, presented with this distinction being driven to the point of absurdity. The question which the Charity Commission has to deal with in the case of the CI is whether the rule against political organisations being charities can have any practical meaning if an organisation whose action are wholly or overwhelmingly political can still be a charity.

c) Rational Response of the Law: ‘Advancement of religion’ should not be a charitable purpose, as it is manifestly not for the public benefit. Indeed, how can it be, when ‘religion(s)’ are mutually contradictory? However, for political reasons, such an improvement in the law will not occur soon.

d) Therefore, the question of how this special privilege for organisations that self-identify as ‘religious’ is administered, and how it will be administered in the future, is of vital interest. This is particularly relevant when the ‘definition’ of religion is to be made more vague under the new Bill, leaving the possibility that even the Church of Scientology (CoS) could become a charity[14].

e) Religious Charities Generally: The CI is not an especially pernicious or repugnant organisation per se. (Although those that oppose one or other of its political policies may view it as such, especially if the related law affects them directly). Its activities are not especially harmful compared with those of some other religious bodies or their members. It is used as an example because it seems to clearly flaunt a particular rule. The inspiration for this complaint was in fact the shock at being handed an advertisement for ‘faith healing’ by the UCKG[15].

f) The CC and all involved will be well aware that many organisations that take advantage of the ‘furtherance of religion’ purpose, or seek to do so, whether openly or through front groups, are indeed pernicious and repugnant. These include Scientologists; Cults; religions which believe in demonic possession (especially of children); forms of voodoo; ‘faith healing’ practitioners; and the more mundane users of charitable status as a front for other activities, such as sexual abuse (including that which is mandated by primitive cultural practices such as FGM or child marriages), the promulgation of political propaganda or the funding of terrorism.

g) In some cases, the theoretical difference between these groups and activities and ‘religion’ is quite tendentious. There is no reason that ‘religion’ per se, or its advancement, should be for the public benefit or exclude activities that are manifestly opposed to it. In the case of the Finsbury Park Mosque scandal[16], for example, noone can have any reason to think that Abu Hamza’s beliefs did not derive from profound religious inspiration and no institution should attempt to look into this.

h) How does the CC Respond? CC decisions appear to be all carrot and no stick. Without video evidence of children burnt on altars or bundles of £20 notes with ‘for bombs and sarin’ scrawled on them, the expectation must be that no effective action will be taken against religious ‘charities’.

i) The CC’s typical response to flaunting of the rules, no matter how flagrant, appears to be only to give advice and ‘support’. In the case of the CI, the approach of the Charity Commission is likely to be to encourage the CI to more properly apply its funds to its purpose (even through more effective campaigning!) and not risk bringing itself into disrepute, perhaps through an increase in ‘non-political’ campaigning or other activities.

j) Imagine if other supervisory agencies behaved in this way: When a factory is prevented from dumping poison in a stream, this is done because the prohibited action is against the public interest. The action itself is to stop. In the case of religious charities, intervention seems to be aimed at much the same kind of activities occurring, but with a different tone. As the rules are concerned with the PROPORTION of an organisation’s activities which are political (‘dominant means’.) The gravest absurdity would be for the CI to legitimise its status merely by engaging in more (perhaps entirely arbitrary) non-political activity rather than less political activity.

k) The public would expect severe sanctions in the rare cases where action is necessary on fundamental issues. These will always be equivalent to a major fraud, aggravated by the misuse of charitable status and the associated public trust. The sanctions should include the (permanent) removal of charitable status from organisations, reimbursement of funds and taxes on incomes now known to be gathered and spent on non-charitable ends, and the pursuit of related fraud or other criminal proceedings. The failure of the CC to successfully pursue such actions in the case of, for example, the Finsbury Park Mosque and the Children’s Survival Fund International[17] must surely shock the public and shake public confidence in the sector and the CC.

l) The CC can have no excuse in the case of the CI: Its activities are not underhand and require very little investigation.

[1] This fact is of great significance for any general critique of charity law, but is not the basis of this complaint. Some of these wider issues are discussed in Part Three below.
[2] Other organisations are also involved in the campaign, such as ‘Christian Voice’, a small, fascistic, political movement, and the British National Party (BNP), a larger neo-nazi organisation. Neither of these organisations are thought to be charities.
[3] It is remarkable that the CI clarifies that no significance should be attributed to the fact that the DVD of the musical has been a commercial failure (see discussion of Woolworth’s decision to withdraw the item and the CI’s advocacy of a continued campaign). The CI therefore specifically rejects the mere offering of suggestion, recommendation, criticism etc.. in favour of an insistence that the public’s choosing not to encounter the product is an inadequate result compared with its not being able (or permitted) to do so. This approach implies that political solutions are uniquely acceptable to the exclusion of others. It should also be pointed out that many individuals, such as writers, performers, publishers and all the various ancillary staff have a financial interest in the musical’s success, whereas neither the CI nor anyone else can demonstrate any harm suffered as a consequence of it. The campaign is thus a sort of abstract exercise of political will.
[4] I have not researched this in detail, but there seem to be a number of cases where the CI’s activities relate to opposing legislation that was a manifesto commitment of the current Government.
[5] See note 13 below re homosexuality.
[6] The figure of £20,000 came from CI literature. The CI’s intervention in this issue, apparently in support of the ‘rights’ of ‘ordinary families’ and ‘sisters who live together long term’ appears initially obscure. It is no less political for that (cf note 4 and note 10). However, the comments on strategy in note 13 may be explicatory.
[7] Cf note 10 on ‘pure’ politics.
[8] See note 4.
[9] I understand that the bible is the purported source text of the theologico-political worldview that the CI is meant to be ‘advancing’. This compendium of ancient texts does not mention transsexual rights or issues relating to gender assignation at all. I further understand that other genetic-developmental issues such as Conjoined Twin and Sirenomelia (issues which the CI does not campaign politically on) are, equally, addressed only tangentially at best. Therefore the CI’s intervention in this medical matter is anomalous in relation to its purposes. Cf note 10.
[10] !! Surely a purely political issue not even tangentially or tenuously related to ‘the advancement of (a) religion’! (To do with changes to the official classification of restricted substances, which I understand the Government makes based on scientific and medical advice.)
[11] ‘A bid’ = legislation put forward by MPs. Cf.9 again.
[12] ‘Section 28’ refers to a long-running political (i.e., parliamentary) debate and national controversy connected with the political status of homosexuality. The details are arcane but it is considered to be of enormous symbolic importance to all involved. This might be the most clear-cut case where the possession of charitable status by one of the protagonists is absurd. See note 13 below on homosexuality generally.
[13] “Are people born gay?” might appear, at first sight, to be a politically neutral question. But this interpretation would be out of context and wrong. It must be assumed that the thrust of the CI’s interest is the purported significance of the question to current and ongoing debates (and the related progress of legislation) concerned with political rights (“equal rights”) for homosexual people. This assumption would of course be rebutted by evidence of other activities of the CI in related fields of heredity; sociology etc.. However, it is strongly supported by the CI’s confessed interest in MP’s votes (a political issue if there ever was one!) on ‘homosexual issues’. The CI, like many politicised religious organisations, appears to battle most aggressively on the political aspects of homosexuality. The reasons for this are unclear and apparently unrelated to their purportedly canonical beliefs and documents. (These would themselves seem to naturally imply, for example, strenuous opposition to the ‘Worship of graven images’, ‘Coveting’ and, most forcefully, divorce.) Political activities on all subjects can be distinguished from theological debate and the CI is engaged in the former. The extent of the CI’s politicisation is emphasized by the fact that its decision to focus disproportionately on homosexuality is itself a political decision. I would tentatively suggest that it is a strategic decision to do with the relationship with other politico-religious bodies. The principle of non-aggression (e.g., re graven images) is thus combined with joint action (e.g., in advancing anti-gay prejudice) and a wish to limit internal recrimination. (Some studies have shown that Christians have HIGHER divorce rates than other groups, despite the reported opinions of Jesus on the matter. Non-christians of course do not have regard for the opinions attributed to him, but are also subject to the legislation which the CI seeks to influence.)
[14] My understanding is that the highly necessary rejection of the CoS’ application for charitable status was in fact based partly on the farcically narrow grounds that ‘Scientology’ is not a religion, because it does not have a god. The obvious rational reasons would have been (a) that the CoS is not for the public benefit and (b) that either it or at least some of its activities are against the public interest. After the change in the law, the CC may well be faced increased applications by CoS and its various front groups. This is a good example of how the CC’s judgement will be of increasingly crucial importance in the future.
[15] The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God; Charity no. 1043985. The Charity Commission investigated the religious charity UCKG twice. It still operates as a charity and possesses an enormous income and capital sum. It advertises ‘Healing Days’; events in which the activity commonly known as ‘faith healing’ occurs. It has a disclaimer on its literature to the effect that faith healing is not a substitute for medical intervention. This absurdity is easy to unravel: ‘faith healing’ does not benefit the public. The advancement of religion(s) that advocate or practice it is actively against the public interest. Cases such as this undermine the confidence of the public in the charitable sector. The public naturally finds it difficult to distinguish ‘faith healing’ from ‘healing through the power of (a) god and confirming through medical intervention’ and ‘exorcism’ from ‘casting out demons’ (as such organisations have asked us to do). In truth, the public finds it hard enough to distinguish these activities from fraud and child abuse. There is no reason for anyone to do so.
[16] North London Central Mosque Trust, Charity no. 299884. The affair clearly demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the CC even in a case where it had managed to detect a problem.
[17] Charity no. 1081820. This appears to have been mail fraud masquerading as charitable collection.

The Charity Commission's Response

Thank you for your recent email, in which you set out your reasoning that the Christian Institute should not be registered as a charity, primarily on the premise that it is a political organisation rather than a charity. Your complaint is anonymous, on the premise that it is "...dangerous to offend religious organisations.".

The Commission's powers of intervention are specifically designed for>use in circumstances where there is some grave, general risk to a>charity's interests and are designed principally to protect the charity>and its assets. Complaints that the Commission will take up as regulator>are, generally speaking, ones where there is a serious risk of>significant harm or abuse to the charity, its assets, beneficiaries or>reputation; where the use of our powers of intervention is necessary to>protect them; and where this represents a proportionate response to the>issues in the case.>>We will look to complainants to show good reason, backed with evidence,>for concerns that they raise with the Commission. Except where it is>clearly inappropriate to do so, we will expect complainants to have>tried first to resolve their concern directly with the charity before>involving the Commission.>>If it is your contention that the Institute is not a charity, then you>should address this concern to the charity trustees in the first>instance. As a Hotmail account can be configured not to display a 'human>meaningful' name as such, you can pursue your concerns with the charity>trustees with the same level of anonymity as with the Commission, and so>effectively without any perceived personal danger, in so much as any>exists here.>>If you are dissatisfied with the response that you get from the>Institute's trustees, please let me know. I can not give any assurances>that the Commission will be able to challenge the trustees, but I am>willing to listen to points of concern raised by you, and to consider>what response if any the Institute's trustees care to make. Of course,>there remains the possibility that the trustees may not decide to>correspond with you, whilst you remain anonymous.>>Your complaint is directed (you point out) not at the Institute in>isolation, although you are apparently in disagreement with the stance>it takes on a number of contentious issues, and the way it which it>voices its opinions. Rather, you represent your concerns as being '...a>problem with the law..." and the Commission's role in dealing with the>concepts of public benefit and (presumably separately) the advancement>of religion.>>It is outside my remit as a case worker to engage (with members of the>public) on matters which are essentially not only of public policy but>the Commission's own highest level policy too. Might I suggest that if>this is where your real concerns lie, that you may care to correspond>with the Commission at a policy level, rather than on an operational>one.>>I appreciate that you have taken some considerable time and trouble to>prepare your complaint, and I am anxious that you do not feel that I am>dismissing it out of hand. This however is a very grey area indeed, even>in the light of revised guidance from the Commission in recent times. In>the past, the line taken by the Institute has been that it is entitled>to express its views (from what is effectively a fundamentalist>standpoint) on matters which is believes to be of concern to not just>Christians, but the general public alike.>>They have represented to the Commission that their campaigning is>directed towards public awareness raising and education, and/or seeking>to influence and change public attitudes. There is nothing to prevent>non-political campaigning such as this being undertaken by any charity .>>Of course, there is always the question of degree. The Commission raised>this point with the Institute a year or two ago, particularly seeking>information about the level of expenditure the charity incurs on its>legitimate campaigning work. My understanding is that the campaigning>side is relatively modest when compared to the Institute's other work in>advancing the Christian faith, such as organising speaking events and>the like. However, this may not always be apparent when the Institute's>website alone is taken as the yardstick by which what it does is judged.>The site is indeed strongly slanted towards its campaigning side, and>maybe does not provide a full picture of the charity's activities in the>broader spectrum.>>For a more precise breakdown on what proportion of the charity income is>devoted to campaigning, and what to more traditional means of advancing>Christianity, I suggest you approach the trustees. The charity's annual>accounts are also available on request from the Commission or the>Institute at a small charge.>>

Senior Caseworker


The response is clarification that:
1) Oversight of charities is primarily the responsibility of private individuals.
2) The Charity Commission does not conduct oversight of the law relating to 'charitable purposes' as part of its ordinary activity.
3) Activities of one kind 'balance' activities of another, so that the mere quantity of political campaigning is irrelevant on principle.
All of which are of great importance to organisations that wish to be charities (such as Amnesty International, which is currently contemplating complex reorganisation so as to be able to obtain charitable status for some of its activities).

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