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Review the Charitable Status of the Australian Christian Lobby

This petition had 9,213 supporters

The signatories of this petition call upon Christian Porter (Minister for Social Services) and Kelly O’Dwyer (Assistant Treasurer) to reform the laws governing the charitable status of basic religious organisations and to review the charitable status of the Australian Christian Lobby in particular.

The Australian Christian Lobby claims its primary purpose is advancing religion. Advancing religion means promoting “a belief in a supernatural being, thing or principle and acceptance of canons of conduct which give effect to that belief.”

Currently, basic religious organisations like the ACL are entitled to tax-exempt status because advancing religion is presumed to be of public benefit. Many Australians would dispute whether the ACL’s relentless and aggressive attacks on equal marriage and the Safe Schools program are of “public benefit”. Many mainstream Christians would dispute the ACL’s interpretation of Christian principles.

The ACL states that its objective is to see “Christian principles influence the way we are governed” and their principal activities are lobbying and advocacy, media and events. Why should blatant political lobbying enjoy tax-exempt status?

Australia inherited laws regarding charity at Federation as part of the common law. British law recognised four so-called “heads of charity” as worthy of public support by way of relief from taxation. These heads of charity were: the relief of poverty, the advancement of education, the advancement of religion, and "other purposes beneficial to the community". These four heads of charity derive from the reign of Queen Elizabeth - the first, not the second! 

In the Church of the New Faith v Commissioner of Payroll Tax (1983) the High Court of Australia set down the following definition of religion: "for the purposes of the law, the criteria of religion are twofold: first, belief in a supernatural Being, Thing or Principle; and second, the acceptance of canons of conduct in order to give effect to that belief". 

Neither of these criteria – belief in the supernatural and the acceptance of canons of conduct – necessarily implies or logically entails any charitable activity. Why, therefore, should the advancement of religion as such be given tax exemption at all?

The Charities Act should be reformed to exclude the advancement of religion from automatic tax exemption. Basic religious organisations should be required to demonstrate the public benefit of their activities. (The law currently deems "prayerful intervention by closed or contemplative religious orders" to be of public benefit!) 

Currently, basic religious organisations are not only presumed to be of public benefit and given automatic tax exempt status, they also don’t have to submit financial statements to the Charities Commission and the don’t have to comply with the Charities Commission governance standards. 

These exemptions should be reformed. All charities should be treated the same, with the same financial reporting requirements and the same governance standards. 

Australians, sceptics and believers alike, would welcome greater transparency and accountability in the charity and not-for-profit sector so that activities subsidised by the taxpayer are truly "for the public benefit".   __________________________________________________________

Basic religious organisations don’t include religious schools, hospitals and welfare groups. They get tax exemptions because they advance education, advance health, or relieve poverty. 

Advancing religion means promoting “a belief in a supernatural being, thing or principle and acceptance of canons of conduct which give effect to that belief.” Examples include teaching the practice of meditation, spreading the teachings of Islam, providing instruction on the Jewish religion, operating a church, synagogue, mosque or temple, providing religious education such as Sunday school programs.  

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Meredith Doig needs your help with “To the House of Representatives and the Minister for Social Services: Review the charitable status of the Australian Christian Lobby”. Join Meredith and 9,212 supporters today.