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.


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