Charities Bill 'breaches Human Rights charter'

The Charities Bill risks breaching the Human Rights Act because it does not set out a definition of religion which includes belief systems without a supreme being, according to a leading human rights lawyer.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill told the House of Lords last week that the Bill referred only to the "advancement of religion" as one of 12 proposed charitable purposes.

He said the Charity Commission's interpretation of this defined religion as "founded on a belief in a supreme being or beings and involving expression of that belief through worship".

Lord Lester said that this potentially discriminated against non-deity faiths, including some types of Buddhism - a breach of the human rights articles on freedom of belief and freedom from discrimination.

This difficulty had been raised several times already, Lord Lester said, but the Government had dismissed it on the grounds that many groups, including Buddhists, were already registered charities.

He said this only went to illustrate the "arbitrary and discriminatory nature of the commission's approach and the pressing need for the House to insist that the position be clarified in the Bill".

His call for an amendment came during the Bill's second reading.

Other objections were raised on public benefit, the powers of the Charity Commission and the regulation of fundraising.

- See News, p2; and Policy and Politics, p12.

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