Charities that are established to advance religion but that also work to advance other charitable purposes will not have to widen their objects, provided they can show their secular work is an "outworking" of religion, according to the Charity Commission's finalised guidance on the Advancement of Religion for the Public Benefit.
The commission has accepted the objections of many organisations established to advance religion that furthering other charitable causes such as the relief of poverty or the advancement of education cannot be separated from religious belief.
The finalised guidance also makes a number of other concessions to religious charities. It says the benefits of advancement of religion must be demonstrable but do not need to be quantifiable or physically experienced.
But it says any supposed disbenefits, which must be outweighed by the benefits in order for organisations to be accepted as a charity, must be "fully substantiated". In looking at individual organisations, the guidance says the commission will disregard claims that the religion's beliefs are unpopular and will have regard to public opinion only "where there are objective and informed public concerns about, or evidence that, the beliefs or practices of an organisation advancing religion causes detriment or harm".
It adds: "Unevidenced claims made with the intention of causing an organisation trouble because of a disagreement with the organisation's views or stance will not be taken into consideration."
The guidance also says that religions that encourage their followers to refuse medical treatment will not be regarded as "damaging or dangerous" in the case of "consenting adults". It says the case of children and vulnerable adults is contentious and would depend on whether any disbenefit of withholding care outweighed the general benefits of religious freedom.
The guidance also includes a number of new examples of public benefit that religious charities can create. These are:
- Contributing to the spiritual and moral education of children
- Promoting prayer, praise and study
- Work towards reconciliation, truth-telling and peace
- Developing understanding regarding peace and human rights