Commission rejects Gnostic Centre's bid for charitable status

Review by regulator upholds earlier decision to turn down application

The Charity Commission has rejected an application for charitable status from an organisation that promotes an ancient mystical belief system called gnosticism.

The Gnostic Centre, which is based in Leeds, applied to be a charity with the possible purposes of advancing education, advancing religion or promoting the moral or spiritual welfare or improvement of the community.

However, in an internal review carried out by two of the regulator's board members, the commission upheld its earlier decision to reject the application

The board members decided that the Gnostic Centre did not advance education as understood in charity law because its objects included the promotion of modern gnosticism, whereas education had to be "based on broad values that are uncontroversial and would generally be supported by objective and informed opinion".

The centre told the commission that gnostics believed the world was created by a lesser god, while gnostics' efforts were concentrating on getting in touch with the true, higher god.

The board members agreed that gnosticism possessed some of the legal qualities of a religion, such as belief in a supreme being, but did not promote "a positive, beneficial, moral or ethical framework" because it focused too narrowly on the spiritual welfare of individuals.

The commission found no evidence of "shared morals or ethics" among the movement's followers and said the centre needed to provide hard evidence that as people's spiritual awareness increased, they "exhibited positive behaviours for the benefit of society".

The board members added that the Gnostic Centre's application would also have failed on public benefit grounds because "it was not demonstrated that the benefit was to the public or a sufficient section of the public".

Celia Ennis, a member of the Gnostic Centre, said she was disappointed at the decision.

"Obviously I think it is unfair because there are other similar organisations that are registered charities," she said. "I think it is generally accepted that meditation, which we teach, is beneficial and there are plenty of charities that teach it.

"We also teach people how to control their reaction to events and the commission could not see the benefit of that."

She said she did not know whether the centre would appeal to the charity tribunal over the decision.

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