One of the site’s readers and frequent commenters, Lew, has spotted a bit of jiggery-pokery at Stormont that appears to have slipped under the media radar. He and I think it deserves some attention.
According to this piece religious charities operating in Northern Ireland might not have to prove that they provide a public benefit in order to keep their charitable status. The Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 says that all charities must prove they operate for the public benefit.
But last month the Northern Ireland Executive asked the Department for Social Development to draft legislation that would reintroduce a presumption of public benefit for religious organisations and possibly for charities that address poverty. The legislation will have to be introduced to the assembly before 7 March in order for it to be passed before the assembly is dissolved in advance of the general election in May.
Given the wealth of research that suggests religious charities discriminate in the provision of their services and in the people they employ, I think public attention should be drawn to this. Moreover, as was made clear by the recent Hazel Stewart court case, people who claim to have profound religious faith can also behave in depraved ways – justifying it or seeking forgiveness on the basis of their faith.
Therefore, the presumption that religious charities always operate for the public good is, in fact flawed. Religious charities – like secular ones – should be subject to the same processes of scrutiny.
Therefore I’d ask that you write to your MLA (here’s a full list) and ask for their position on this legislation and urge that they vote against a change in the law.