Monday, November 19, 2012
So much for Christian charity! British church loses battle for tax relief because 'they're doing no public good'
MPs are demanding an inquiry into the Charity Commission after the watchdog banned a Christian group from charitable status on the grounds that religion is not always for ‘public benefit’.
More than 50 MPs from all the main parties have signed a Commons motion calling on the charity regulator to think again, amid fears that hundreds of religious groups could be stripped of their tax-exempt status, threatening their very existence.
They accuse the Charity Commission of ‘politically correct bias’ against faith groups after it ruled that the Preston Down Trust of the Plymouth Brethren Church – which has 16,000 members across Britain – is not entitled to charitable status because it does not do enough good works in the community.
MPs say the ruling is ‘outrageous’ because it ignored the way the group, which has enjoyed charitable status for 50 years, runs soup kitchens for the poor and hospital visits for the sick.
Tory MP Robert Halfon said: ‘There is something rotten in the Charity Commission. I cannot understand why the Brethren, good people who do so much in their communities, have been singled out.
‘I believe an inquiry is needed into the role of the Charity Commission, to consider how it came to make the decision. What has happened is unjust and is creating fear in many churches across the country.’
Garth Christie, an elder in the Plymouth Brethren, described the decision as ‘a bolt from the blue’.
He said that he and the other members had spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on trying to prove their charitable status, and they would appeal all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if necessary.
The group has already appealed to the Charity Tribunal in what is seen as a test case that could threaten the charitable status of hundreds of small religious groups.
Several MPs are threatening to table amendments to the Small Charitable Donations Bill before Parliament later this month in a bid to protect faith groups.
Enlarge The church that keeps itself in an evil world
That would seek to overturn measures in the 2006 Charities Act which removed the presumption for charities that education, religion, or poverty relief are for the public benefit.
In a ruling that sent shockwaves through even the established church, the Charity Commission ruled that its decision ‘makes it clear that there was no presumption that religion generally, or at any more specific level, is for the public benefit, even in the case of Christianity or the Church of England’.
The commission’s decision will have a huge impact on the Brethren’s tax relief.
Some 53 MPs have signed a motion which ‘calls on the Government and all parliamentarians to express their belief to the Charities Commission that Christian groups who are serving the community have the right to charitable status and should not be subject to politically correct bias’.
The motion has been signed by Tory, Labour and Lib Dem MPs, the Scottish nationalists and MPs from the DUP, SDLP and Alliance Party from Northern Ireland.
MPs say the Plymouth Brethren have been discriminated against because they are a highly private group who prefer not to talk publicly about their good works.
The MPs spoke out after Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said he was ‘very concerned’ about the warning to Christian groups and called for a ‘strong fight’ to resist the secular drift of rulings from the Charity Commission.
A commission spokesman said: ‘We received an application for registration from the Preston Down Trust, a Brethren meeting hall.
‘The application from the Trust could not be accepted based on the information we received at the time, as we were unable to conclude that the organisation is established for the advancement of religion for public benefit within the relevant charity law.
‘We can’t speculate further about this matter while it is subject to an appeal.’
'Taken to task for doing nothing wrong': worker demoted for opposing gay marriage was unlawfully punished, British judge rules
Adrian Smith lost his managerial position, had his salary cut by 40%, and was given a final written warning by Trafford Housing Trust (THT) after posting that hosting gay weddings in churches were "an equality too far".
The comments were not visible to the general public, and were posted outside work time, but the trust said he broke its code of conduct by expressing religious or political views which might upset co-workers.
Mr Smith brought breach of contract proceedings, saying the trust acted unlawfully in demoting him.
Today Mr Justice Briggs ruled in his favour at London's High Court, in a case which will set a precedent for employees' rights to free speech in the workplace.
The dispute began in February 2011 when Mr Smith saw an article on the BBC News website headed "Gay church marriages get go ahead".
He linked to it on his personal Facebook page, which can only be viewed by friends, and friends of friends, and added the comment: "An equality too far".
Two colleagues read the remark and one of them posted a response asking Mr Smith to explain what he meant.
The next evening he posted: "I don't understand why people who have no faith and don't believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church. "The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women. If the state wants to offer civil marriage to the same sex then that is up to the state; but the state shouldn't impose its rules on places of faith and conscience."
The judge said that the trust did not have a right to demote Mr Smith as his Facebook postings did not amount to misconduct, and the demotion imposed by way of purported disciplinary sanction constituted a breach of contract.
He said that the "very modest" damages due to Mr Smith was the very small difference between his contractual salary and the amount actually paid to him during the 12 weeks following his assumption of his new, but reduced, role.
The judge said the damages awarded to Mr Smith were insufficient for the "serious" nature of the trust's conduct, and he could have received substantially more in another court. He added: "I must admit to real disquiet about the financial outcome of this case.
"Mr Smith was taken to task for doing nothing wrong, suspended and subjected to a disciplinary procedure which wrongly found him guilty of gross misconduct, and then demoted to a non-managerial post with an eventual 40% reduction in salary. "The breach of contract which the trust thereby committed was serious and repudiatory.
"A conclusion that his damages are limited to less than £100 leaves the uncomfortable feeling that justice has not been done to him in the circumstances."
He added that if Mr Smith had commenced proceedings for unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal, rather than starting an action for breach of contract in the county court, there was every reason to suppose that the tribunal would have been able - if it thought fit - to award him substantial compensation for the unfair way he was treated.
If financial stringency made it practically impossible for Mr Smith to bring such proceedings, then the injustice he had suffered, although very real, was something the court was unable to alleviate by a substantial award.
Mr Smith said in a statement: "I'm pleased to have won my case for breach of contract today. The judge exonerated me and made clear that my comments about marriage were in no way 'misconduct'.
"My award of damages has been limited to less than £100 - but that is for technical legal reasons and the judge made it clear he was not able to award me a much larger sum. "But I didn't do this for the money. I did this because there is an important principle at stake.
"Britain is a free country where people have freedom of speech, and I am pleased that the judge's ruling underlines that important principle.
"But this sad case should never have got this far. Long ago, Trafford Housing Trust should have held their hands up and admitted they made a terrible mistake. Had they done this then my life would not have been turned upside down and my family and I would not have had to endure a living nightmare. "However, to the bitter end, they claimed I had broken equality policies and brought the Trust into disrepute - all because, like millions of people, I support traditional marriage.
"Something has poisoned the atmosphere in Britain, where an honest man like me can be punished for making perfectly polite remarks about the importance of marriage."
He called on the Prime Minister to "think very carefully" before before changing the law on gay marriage because people who share his views could be "treated as outcasts".
Matthew Gardiner, chief executive at Trafford Housing Trust said: "We fully accept the court's decision and I have made a full and sincere apology to Adrian. At the time we believed we were taking the appropriate action following discussions with our employment solicitors and taking into account his previous disciplinary record.
"We have always vigorously denied allegations that the Trust had breached an employee's rights to freedom of religious expression under Human Rights and Equalities legislation and, in a written judgment handed down on 21st March 2012, a district judge agreed that these matters should be struck out." "This has been a case about the interpretation of our code of conduct and the use of social media by our managers."
He said the Trust had "little option" but to defend the case in court and they had offered to settle with Mr Smith out of court.
Well-known British chefess causes outrage after condemning Muslim Leicester as a 'ghetto'
Her popularity allows her to speak out
When Clarissa Dickson Wright embarked on a tour of the country, she was hoping to savour the culinary delights of every region. But her visit to one particular city, it would seem, left a bitter taste.
The television chef has caused outrage by saying that her visit to a Muslim area of Leicester was “the most frightening experience of my life”, and claiming that it left her feeling like a “pariah” in her own country.
Dickson Wright, 65, who reached fame as one half of the Two Fat Ladies, said visiting the city made her feel like a “complete outcast” and she described the area as a “ghetto”.
When asked to explain the comments, made in her new book, she said she was “surprised any of the people who might object could read what I wrote as it is written in English”.
She added that she has “never believed that political correctness was a reason not to say what I have experienced”.
The chef was criticised for her “hurtful” comments, with the city’s mayor accusing her of “breezing in from outside” and making “cheap” generalisations to sell books.
Dickson Wright has dedicated one chapter of Clarissa’s England: A Gamely Gallop Through the English Counties to every county, discussing the culinary, cultural and historical merits of each.
On Leicestershire, she writes of the “ghetto” of its city, saying that it demonstrates how multiculturalism has failed.
Describing how she got lost after coming off the ring road to escape a traffic jam, she writes: “I found myself in an area where all the men were wearing Islamic clothing and all the women were wearing burkas and walking slightly behind them.
“None of the men would talk to me when I tried to find out where I was and how to get out of there because I was an English female and they don’t talk to females they don’t know, while if the women could speak English they weren’t about to show it by having a word with me. I have many good acquaintances and even some friends among the Muslim community, yet here I was, in the heart of a city in the middle of my own country, a complete outcast and pariah. If multiculturalism works, which I have always been rather dubious of, surely it must be multicultural and not monocultural.
“However, everything has an upside and one of the results of this is that Leicester has a very good selection of Asian restaurants. I can only hope that in generations to come there will be a merging of the cultures and not the exclusion zone that is the ghetto.”
Ibrahim Mogra, the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, and a city imam, said: “How can she judge an entire community on her one-off rare time of getting lost in Leicester?
“It showed a complete lack of appreciation of the fact we are almost two million in this country, doing our bit for our country. When she says that she was in the centre of a city in the centre of her own country, I take objection. This is also my country and this is also my city.
“I would like to call on Leicester people to be even more welcoming and hospitable than we’ve been so far.”
Sir Peter Soulsby, the mayor and former Labour MP, said: “That is the sort of thing that makes me very angry — when someone breezes in from outside and paints a picture of Leicester that does not have any foundation in reality. It may help sell books, but it is cheap.”
When contacted by the Leicester Mercury, Dickson Wright, who was born in London and lives in Edinburgh, said: “I’m surprised any of the people who might object could read what I wrote as it is written in English.
“Visiting Leicester scared me and I am not scared easily. It frightened me because it was part of my country that I was born in and there are a lot of radical Muslim preachers in this country.
“I was in London when the July 7 bomb attacks happened and this to me was proof for those people who have been saying we’re getting ghettoisation of Muslim areas.”
Sex gangs report 'will play down threat of Pakistani men targeting white girls'
An official inquiry into child sex gangs will fail to highlight the targeting of white girls by Pakistani men.
Instead the year-long Government-backed investigation will say that child sex abuse is a problem caused by men of all backgrounds in towns and cities across the country.
The findings of the inquiry by Sue Berelowitz, the Deputy Children's Commissioner for England, are likely to anger ministers and provoke disbelief among those who have observed and investigated cases of abuse of teenage girls in towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire.
The inquiry into child sexual exploitation by gangs was launched more than a year ago, but its investigations became more urgent this summer following the convictions of nine men in Rochdale for their roles in a child sex ring which groomed young white girls for sex.
The men, eight of Pakistani origin and one from Afghanistan, received jail sentences of between four and 19 years.
In September, police documents revealed that in Rotherham officers ignored evidence of large-scale sex crime by 'networks of Asian males exploiting young white females' which dated back more than a decade.
As long ago as 2002, Home Office inquiries suggested that police were failing to question or investigate Asian abusers while treating their victims as 'deviant and promiscuous'.
Education Secretary Michael Gove said in May that Miss Berelowitz should not let her inquiries be swayed by questions of prejudice and should instead 'ask tough questions about cultural background'.
However her first report, to be published next week, will argue that the problem lies with men from all ethnic backgrounds.
The findings are expected to reflect opinions that were given by Miss Berelowitz to MPs this summer, when she said child sexual exploitation was happening across the country.
Her report has met an unenthusiastic response in Whitehall, where one source said: 'It is important we don't take a politically correct approach and pretend there is not a real problem here. Obviously abuse has been carried out by men from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds.
'But that doesn't mean we cannot say there is an issue about groups of Pakistani men systematically targeting young white girls.'
A spokesman for Miss Berelowitz said there would be no comment on the report until it is published next week. But a senior political figure with long experience of trying to combat sex gangs said there is a specific problem with groups of young Pakistani men, and that Miss Berelowitz would be wrong to ignore it.
Ann Cryer, who stood down as Labour MP for Keighley in West Yorkshire at the last election, played a central role in bringing a gang of abusers to justice in 2004.
'Abuse and sexual exploitation is a universal problem, especially with white men who groom targets through the internet,' she said. 'But there is another problem in some towns with Pakistani men.
'This is connected with parents in Lancashire and Yorkshire who have the intention of marrying young men to cousins from Pakistan whom they have never met.
'This means the men look for other partners. Older white women are not interested, because they know it is never going to end in wedding bells, and they dare not look for girls in their own community. So they look for young white girls.'
Mrs Cryer added: 'I believe there is a problem and the solution is for the elders of their community to take action.
'The point is not that they are being picked on because they are Muslim, but that the way they are behaving is un-Islamic.'
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.