Religious charities in UK face proposed changes in the law

 Religious charities in the UK are bracing themselves for proposed changes in the law which could seriously affect the way they operate. Laws regulating charitable activities have not been altered since 1601. The draft Charities Bill would require faith groups to prove in positive terms that their presence and activities contribute to building up a diverse and vibrant civil society. If they fail to demonstrate this this they ultimately face having their assets and resources taken away and diverted to organisations who pass the test. Last month in Westminster a gathering of charities run by Hindus, Unitarians and Roman Catholics met to air their concerns about the bill. Representatives from the joint parliamentary committee scrutinising listed to their case, arguing for the preservation of the legal presumption. The legislation as it currently stands does not require religious organisations to prove that they benefit the public, the presumption is rebutted when evidence is produced showing that the presence and activities of a particular religious group are damaging to the social fabric. Chaired by Kevin Fox SJ the audience heard accounts from those who have lived the religious life for many years. Sr Anne Thompson of the Daughters of Jesus asked: " How is the alleviation of loneliness, the comfort of panic or distress, the restoration of hope and the injection of humour into lives made dull and even intolerable by bereavement or isolation to be estimated?" Rev Steve Dick, of the Unitarian and Free christian Churches spoke of the unique status of faith groups who pursue spiritual as distinct from temporal goals. Robert Meakin, a lawyer from a firm specialising in religious charities provided insights into the legal implications of these reforms. The Joint committee will consider the concerns of religious organizations when it produces a final version of the Bill later this summer. This will then be debated in both Houses before being enacted. For further information contact Hal Broadbent on: 020 7969 5653/ Source: Westminster Record

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