|Once again, it's time to sample New Zealand charity case law and discern whether conservative Christian lobby and pressure groups deserve 'charitable status.'
Back in 2013, the Charities Registration Board (the successor to the former Charities Commission) deregistered Family First as a bona fide charity, given its predominant role of actively lobbying government for specific 'preferable' (read: religious social conservative) family policies. The issue wasn't that it had lacked diligence in dealing with financial statement reports, or that it hadn't complied with ample disclosure about its activities. The Charities Registration Board found that Family First was allegedly "not" engaged primarily in service provision, unless its 'educational activities' and 'research reports' are to be construed as such. Certainly, that is the organisation's argument in its forthcoming court case against the Charities Registration Board for its deregistration. How might that proceed? For answers, let's consult the useful summaries of Commonwealth charities case law in the New Zealand Law Journal (April 2015).
However, Family First argues that its deregistration was 'unjustified', given the reversal of previous Charities Commission/Charities Registration Board decisions that had similarly initially deregistered the National Council of Women and Greenpeace, especially given the aftermath of Greenpeace of New Zealand v Charities Board . In that case, the New Zealand Supreme Court ruled that in the case of Greenpeace New Zealand, there was evidence of service provision and sidelined the question of whether excessive 'advocacy' should be grounds for deregistration. What does the law say, however? When it comes to common law, one leading English authority has argued that 'political activity' and 'charitable purposes' should remain distinct, which has been the case since Bowman v Secular Society  AC 406. Reaffirming Bowman in 1982, Govern v Attorney-General set forth several tests for whether or not charitable status should be assessed as legitimate or otherwise. Was an organisation politically partisan? Was its primary objective to secure legislative reforms within the United Kingdom or elsewhere in the world?
However, in Aid/Watch versus Commissioner of Taxation , Australia departed from this authority. Its High Court upheld Aid/Watch's charitable status, given that was clearly engaged in nonpartisan criticism of Australian foreign aid policy. That said, in Re: Draco Foundation Charitable Trust, the New Zealand High Court continued to follow Bowman's authority. In its initial proceedings in the New Zealand High Court and Court of Appeal, Greenpeace New Zealand found likewise. However, breaking with Bowman and following Aid/Watch, the New Zealand Supreme Court has apparently accepted the legitimacy of charitable political activity- or has it? In the same Greenpeace case, the court sounded a warning shot- it might be the case that public benefit arguments for advocacy would be difficult to defend if lobbying activity were an organisation's predominant task.
This provides an interesting closing observation- where should the line be drawn? Is advocacy a charitable purpose if it meets a public benefit test? What should be construed as a public benefit? Is this applicable to Family First and other religious social conservative lobby, pressure and/or charitable organisations?
And would it not be extremely unfair for Family First to regain charitable status in this context, given what has just happened to Relationships Aotearoa, forced to close operations, including family violence counselling, admittedly due to concerns about executive governance and administration in their context? Meanwhile, Family First seems to be able to hold yet another "Forum on the Family" in August 2015 and invite US Christian Right antigay activist Ryan Anderson as one of the headline acts.
Ryan Anderson is the editor of the Witherspoon Institute's Public Discourse journal. It will be recalled that the Witherspoon Institute was also a key supporter of Christian Right sociologist Mark Regnerus' unsuccessful and poorly constructed hatchet job against same-sex parenting. In 2012, Ryan himself, as well as conservative Catholic Princeton University law professor Robert George and Sherif Girgis, wrote a tiresome doctrinally correct conservative Catholic treatise entitled What is Marriage? He has also contributed to social conservative publications within the United States such as the National Review, Human Life Review, First Things, the Weekly Standard, Christianity Today and the Claremont Review of Books. If the US Supreme Court releases its eventual verdict on marriage equality, Anderson's The Future of Marriage and Religious Liberty will be published in July 2015. And what point is there even in doing this?! Marriage equality and inclusive adoption reform have existed in this country since April 2013 and no mainstream political party intends their repeal.
Mainstream charities usually don't have whatever disposable income required to import the likes of Anderson. Or is this yet another sign of Family First's craven dependency on the US Christian Right and the World Congress of Families?
Metaphorically and literally, the jury still seems to be out.
Recommended: Juliet Chevalier Watts: "Shedding the Shackles of Bowman: A Critical Review of the Political Purpose Doctrine and Charitable Law in New Zealand" New Zealand Law Journal (April 2015): 108-112, 115. Susan Barker: "The presumption of charitability post-Greenpeace" New Zealand Law Journal (April 2015): 116-121, 132 Forum on the Family: http://www.familyfirst.org.nz/forum Ryan Anderson Biographical Reference: http://www.heritage .org/about/staff/a/ryan-anderson Craig Young - 12th June 2015