Thursday, March 17, 2011

Against government promotion of religion

I've blogged before about the problem of promoting religion being a "charitable purpose" - something which seems to violate the right to be free from discrimination (and arguably the right to freedom of religion) affirmed in the BORA. Today, we have a concrete example of that, in the form of the government's Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust. The trust has been established by the government as a charitable vehicle for assisting victims of the Christchurch earthquake. Its trust deed (offline, as far as I can tell) lists its purposes as:

The specific objects of the Trust are:

(a) the relief of poverty; and

(b) the advancement of education; and

(c) the advancement of religion; and

(d) the advancement of any other purposes beneficial to the community; and

(e) the advancement of any other purposes that are charitable under the law of New Zealand.

(Emphasis added)

On the one hand, this is simply a statement of the definition in the Charities Act 2005. But OTOH, this is a government body, and it is fundamentally inappropriate for any such body to be advancing religion. Our state is supposed to be religiously neutral. It should not be taking sides in religious debates, seeking to influence people's religious decisions, or assisting one religion over another (or any religion over none at all).

And no, this isn't just a case of them incorporating the definition to ensure the widest possible purpose. PR material around the establishment of the trust makes it clear that when they say "the advancement of religion", they mean "the advancement of religion":

The seven categories of the Christchurch Quake Appeal:


Spiritual and faith For the advancement of religion, including: places of worship, books, clothing, artefacts, musical instruments.

(Their emphasis)

So, if you donate to the trust, your money will be used to rebuild churches (regardless of their classification as heritage buildings) and provide religious texts. That's perfectly appropriate for a private body (though it should not be granted charitable status). But it is absolutely inappropriate for government.