Friday, March 18, 2011

Against government promotion of religion II

Yesterday, I raised some questions about the appropriateness of the government's Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust having "the advancement of religion" as one of its objects. Today the National Business Review weighs in with a story on the issue: Quake charity accused of blending church and state (paywalled), which includes some reaction from the trust's head, Mark Weldon:

Criticism over the blending of church and state was met with a sidestep by Mr Weldon, who insisted the government¹s Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust was not part of government.

"It's certainly supported by the state, but the Trust is not an instrument of the state."

I call bullshit. The trust was established by the government. Its trustees are public servants. According to its registration details, its official address is the Department Of Internal Affairs. But more importantly than that, establishing the trust was an act of the government. That act is clearly covered by the Bill of Rights Act, and the government had a duty to abide by its human rights obligations in drafting the trust deed. The fact that the trust is now supposedly a separate entity does not affect that duty one bit.

But besides that, should the government really be able to sidestep its fundamental human rights obligations by establishing special-purpose private bodies? I don't think so.

But it gets worse, because Weldon admits the inclusion of religion was quite deliberate:

He said the inclusion of religion as one of the charity's seven categories of investment was a pragmatic move to draw in more funds from overseas.

"When you're talking to some of the super-wealthy overseas, their trusts have particular categories they look to donate to.

"If it¹s just an undifferentiated bucket, you¹re off the list. So there's a practical aspect to this," he said.

So there you have it: the government violated the Bill of Rights Act and established a trust to advance religion in pursuit of the overseas bigot dollar. Lovely. It may result in more money for Christchurch, but its still absolutely wrong.