A Conservative backbencher will today present a bill to parliament calling for all religious organisations to be considered charitable.
Peter Bone, the Conservative MP for Wellingborough, will today present a Ten Minute Rule Motion in the House of Commons seeking leave to bring a bill to amend the Charities Act 2011 to "treat all religious institutions as charities".
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations warned the proposal "risks downgrading religious charities in the public mind".
Writing on the Conservative Home website, Bone said the move would reintroduce the presumption that religious institutions are of public benefit and therefore eligible for charitable status. The Charities Act 2006 introduced the requirement that all charities, including those advancing religion, education and the relief of poverty, should demonstrate public benefit.
It would "not mean an automatic renewal of charitable status, but an acknowledgement of the role religious institutions play in our society", he wrote.
Bone referred to the case of Preston Down Trust, a congregation of the Plymouth Brethren, which is appealing to the charity tribunal against the Charity Commission’s decision to refuse it charitable status.
"The liberal, secular elite of the Charity Commission are on a very dangerous path of restricting religious freedom," wrote Bone. "If this government truly believes in religious freedoms then respecting the advancement of religion as a public benefit should be acknowledged, as before, and the Charities Act 2011 amended."
Bone said that he delivered a letter, signed by 113 MPs, to 10 Downing Street on Monday to "express their deep concern at the Charity Commission’s current posture on registering religious institutions as charities".
The NCVO issued a briefing to MPs ahead of Bone’s motion in which it highlighted that it had always been a requirement that charities are established for public benefit and religious organisations have always had to advance religion among the public in order to qualify for charitable status. It added that public benefit was essential to promoting public trust and confidence in the charity brand and that the introduction of a public benefit test had served to bring the public benefit of charitable status to people’s attention.
"Public benefit is what makes a charity a charity, and most are keen to demonstrate the value of their work," said Elizabeth Chamberlain, policy officer at the NCVO.
"Peter Bone’s plan risks downgrading religious charities in the public mind. They would become unique among charities in not having to show how they are of benefit to the public."
A Charity Commission spokeswoman declined to comment.