When is the Advancement of Religion Not a Charitable Purpose?

AuthorPauline Ridge
PositionProfessor, ANU College of Law, Australian National University
When is the Advancement of
Religion Not a Charitable Purpose?
Pauline Ridge*
is article addresses the question of why religious groups receive charitable status in
relation to religious activities by considering when the current law does not grant
charitable status to purposes that advance religion. e jurisdictional focus is upon
Australian law, with some reference to other jurisdictions whose law also derives from
the English common law of charity. After an overview of the charity law landscape in
Australia, this article explains and critically evaluates the grounds upon which charitable
status may be refused to purposes that advance religion. is article then considers two
issues that have emerged in twenty f‌irst century charity law and that are relevant to the
charitable status of religious groups. ese concern human rights, particularly the right
to freedom of religion, and the use of charity law to regulate religious activity.
* Australian National University. e f‌irst draft of this article was prepared
during a visiting fellowship at the Centre for Studies in Religion and
Society, University of Victoria, Canada. I thank the members of the
Centre and Professor Kathryn Chan, Faculty of Law, for their generous
support in that endeavour.
(2020) 6 CJCCL
I. I
II. O O T L A R L I A
III. D B T C S
A. Introduction
B. e Def‌inition of ‘Advancement of Religion’ in Australian Charity Law
C. e Def‌inition of ‘Religion’ in English Charity Law
D. e Def‌inition of ‘Advancement of Religion’ in Irish Charity Law
IV. D B U T ‘P’ E O C
A. Introduction
B. Restrictions on Public Access to Worship
C. Members Linked by Blood or Other Private Association
D. Private Prof‌it
V. D D T P D
A. Introduction
B. Unlawful Purposes
C. Evidential Questions
D. Can Lawful Religious Purposes be Disqualif‌ied on Public Detriment
VI. H R C
A. Introduction
B. Reliance on Human Rights by Religious Groups in Relation to
Advancement of Religion
C. Should the Advancement of Religion be Subject to Human Rights
VII. C S A A M O S R C O
R G
VIII. C
I. Introduction
The charitable status of religious purposes has come under public
scrutiny in the twenty-f‌irst century. Whilst some faith-motivated
activities traditionally undertaken by religious groups, such as health
care, aged care and welfare services, are of obvious benef‌it to society as
a whole, why does the manifestation of religious faith through purely
religious activity, such as worship, prayer and ritual (described in
Ridge, When is the Advancement of Religion Not a Charitable Purpose?
charity law as the ‘advancement of religion’) also qualify for the valuable
reputational, legal and f‌iscal privileges associated with charitable status?
is question has been brought into sharper focus by radical changes
to the law in some jurisdictions. In England and Wales, for example,
all charitable purposes must now be of demonstrable ‘public benef‌it’;
this has placed the question of the public benef‌it of the advancement of
religion particularly in the spotlight.1 Changes in the public perception
of religion are also a contributing factor. In Australia, for example, the
public respect and deference traditionally accorded to religion appears
to be waning. Public trust in institutional religion was shaken by the
f‌indings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child
Sexual Abuse2 and this has been exacerbated by the disjuncture between
general public sentiment and conservative religious groups’ vocal
opposition to the same sex marriage reforms of the Commonwealth of
Australia (“Commonwealth Government”) in 2017.3
Eligibility for charitable status in relation to purely religious activities
is of profound importance to religious groups, for whom the predominant
sources of funding in common law countries such as Australia are the
gifts of group members, investments and commercial activity.4 e value
of almost all of these sources of funding is boosted by the legal and f‌iscal
privileges conferred by the state upon religious groups and religious
purposes through the mechanism of charitable status.5
e question whether purposes for the advancement of religion are
charitable is most often framed in terms of the public benef‌it element
of charity law. Legal scholarship to date has focused upon clarifying the
relevant law in this respect (is there a presumption of public benef‌it at
common law in relation to the advancement of religion and what does
public benef‌it entail in that doctrinal context?) or upon the public
benef‌it rationale for conferring charitable status for the advancement

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