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Aug 08 2011

Restrictions only seem to apply to atheist and secular groups not religious ones

As you know, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain was recently refused charitable status. Below is our response to the refusal. You can also see the refusal letter from the Charities Commission following ours.

Ms Caroline Jones
Charity Commission Direct
PO Box 1227
Liverpool L69 3UG

August 8th 2011

Dear Ms Jones,

Thank you for your letter of April 15th 2011.

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain had applied for charity status, however your letter informed us that our objectives are not deemed to be exclusively charitable, therefore, our case for charity status has not been established.

I would like, if I may, to make a couple of points on your letter, and on other organisations which have indeed been granted charity status by the Charity Commission.

Your letter states that we are not exclusively charitable because our objectives “may be capable of extending to non charitable purposes and purposes for which the public benefit cannot be established”. You then cite demands within our manifesto which you deem to be of a political nature, such as public debate, discussion, and campaigning. However, all of the demands within our manifesto are for recognised human rights – in particular the right to freedom of speech. It is the aim of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain to provide a safe place for people to renounce Islam and to advance human rights (such as the right to freedom of speech and conscience) in doing so. The advancement of human rights is a charitable purpose under section 2 of the Charities Act. Can I ask why this does not suffice, and how it is that the advancement of human rights can ever be deemed to be entirely non-political? How does the advancement of the human rights of freedom of speech and conscience not benefit the public? Furthermore, could you please explain whether the restriction on political activity applies only to secular or atheist organisations, or does it apply to religious organisations also?

To assist you in assessing my questions, I would like to draw your attention to the work of the Islamic Sharia Council (Registered charity number 1003855). On its website, the Islamic Sharia Council encourages polygamous marriage, advises women to remain within violent marriages, advises women that they do not have the right to refuse sex to their husbands, and advises that a woman’s testimony is worth less than a man’s because her mind is not as steady as his. Can you please explain how you deem this activity to be in the public interest? Indeed, can you also explain how these activities do not amount to being entirely non-political?

It is also widely known that the Islamic Sharia Council operates makeshift ‘courts’ across Britain, in which a woman’s word is deemed to be worth half of a man. Indeed, such organisations openly admit that they are hearing cases of domestic violence and marital rape (i.e. criminal offences, can you please point to the section of the Charities Act which allows such activity?). These cases are heard within a context where a woman has no right to refuse sex and violence against women is permitted (provided it does not leave marks). Can you please explain how this amounts to a public benefit, and is entirely non-political?

I look forward to receiving your response.

Sincerely yours

Maryam Namazie
Spokesperson
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain

Below is the letter from the Charities Commission:

Dear Ms Namazie

Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB)

Further to my email of 05 April we have now completed our review of the application and supporting material provided.

As you may know, when we receive an application for registration as a charity we check that the objects (ie the purposes as set out at clause 3 of the Constitution) fall within the descriptions of purposes at s.2 of the Charities Act 2006 and that they are accurately reflected by the activities. The organisation must be set up to benefit the public and any private benefit arising from its activities may only be incidental to the achievement of the purposes. Our guidance ‘Charities and Public Benefit’, available from the Public Benefit pages of our website, provides further information about this.

In this case the objects as drafted are not exclusively charitable. That is because they may be capable of extending to non charitable purposes and purposes for which the public benefit cannot be established. In considering the aim or purpose of an organisation, both to clarify the meaning of the objects and to establish if the aim is for the public benefit, we may consider the factual background to how that organisation is established and how it is proposed to operate. Our published guidance explains this at section D4 of ’Charities and Public Benefit’ referenced above.

The Council would appear to be concerned with public debate, discussion and campaigning. The information from the website at www.ex-muslim.org.uk includes a Manifesto which seeks particular demands. To a large extent the demands are of a political nature, that is seeking a change in the law either in this country or abroad. An organisation which has a political purpose (or aim) cannot be a charity.

The Manifesto includes, for example:
• freedom to criticise religion, prohibition of restrictions on unconditional freedom of criticism;
• prohibition of religious customs, rules, ceremonies or activities that are incompatible with or infringe people’s right or freedoms;
• abolition of all repressive cultural and religious customs which hinder and contradict women’s independence, free will and equality, prohibition of segregation of sexes;
• prohibition of interference by any authority, family members or relatives or official authorities in the private lives of women and men in their personal, emotion and sexual relationships and sexuality;
• prohibition of any kind of financial material or moral support by the state or state institutions to religion and religious activities.

Aside from these examples the other demands listed in the Manifesto may raise similar issues.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights are codes of rights which may involve balancing some rights against other. This is essentially a matter for determination by the state.

It should be noted that the Freedom of Religion (in Article 9) extends ‘to the right in private or public to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance’. The demands of the Council would appear to involve some restrictions to such rights.

Similarly Article 8 provides for the right to respect for private and family life. Again the demands in the Manifesto would appear to call for interference with such rights, for example by prohibiting (potentially by legislation) the ability of a family to conduct its family life in private without interference.

Under English law the advancement of religion is a recognised charitable purpose and charities are afforded certain fiscal privileges by the state. The prohibition of any such financial privilege as called for in the demand made in the Manifesto would require a change in law.

Similarly a separation of religion from the state and legal and education system would appear to require both constitutional reform and change to the law.

On the basis of the limited information available it is unclear how the Council will restrict its activities to those which further only charitable aims for the public benefit. If the trustees would find it helpful to discuss the application and these issues we would be happy to have a telephone discussion. If you would like to pursue this option please get in touch with me to make arrangements.

Yours sincerely
Caroline Jones

2 comments

  1. 1
    Leila

    There's so much of Ms Jones' letter which seems so wrong. There's some perverse irony in using the Human Rights to defend those who would so willingly take those rights away from others (notably women, in this case). And why are charities promoting religion given financial backing over those promoting secular ideals?

    And am I wrong in thinking that the seperation of religion from law and education is already a given? Myths have no place in governing a country, nor are myths suitable in teaching our children about the world.

  2. 2
    jay renaud

    Hi Maryam: Your petition is valuable because it reveals systemic hypocrisy (a weakness) in the fabric of English law, which is ruthlessly exploited by religious groups of all denominations. Your (our) particular focus on islam is shown to be too narrow. The beast to be slain is religion itself, which for too long has ridden roughshod over human consciousness at the expense of human achievement and endeavor.

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