A court has ordered the New Zealand Charities Board to suspend its attempts to deregister Family First, while the organisation awaits a high court appeal hearing against deregistration.
As Barnabas Fund reported last year, Family First has faced repeated attempts by the NZ Charities Board to shut it down because it promotes traditional marriage and family values. The board claims that these “cannot be determined to be for the public benefit in a way previously accepted as charitable.” This is despite a judge telling the NZ Charities Board in 2015 not to confuse the personal views of its board members with the role of the Charities Board in regulating charities.
When the first Charities Commission was set up in the UK in 1853 its role was very simple – to ensure that when people gave money to a charity, that money was used for the purpose for which it was given. In those days everyone understood what a charitable purpose was – it was things like helping the poor, caring for the sick or spreading the Gospel. In fact in the nineteenth century more than three-quarters of all charities had a specifically Christian foundation.
However, in the last two decades laws have been passed in Australia, NZ and the UK which require charities to prove they provide a “public benefit.” This has created a dangerous situation in all three countries where unelected individual civil servants at the charity regulator can effectively decide on their own what is/is not allowed to be a charity (and therefore allowed to collect donations).
New Zealand’s 2005 Charities Act specifically includes “the advancement of religion” as a “charitable act.” So, what appears to be happening is that the NZ Charities Board are seeking to go beyond the law and impose their board members’ own partisan ideological beliefs on a Christian charity – and shut it down if it will not comply.
This amounts to a massive attack on freedom of religion – and freedom generally. Charity regulators exist to ensure there is financial probity in the multiplicity of voluntary organisations that exist in society. For a charity regulator to think it can decide on partisan ideological grounds which of those should actually be allowed to exist is an attack on the very basis of civil society itself.