Sunday, June 12, 2005

An Intriguing Spin...

The Ottawa Citizen has an article about some lawsuits being raised to have churches lose their 'Charitable Organization' status with regards to taxation.

The reasoning behind the lawsuits seems to be an argument that these churches (at least some of them) are engaging in political lobby, not charitable works where their activities around the Same-Gender-Marriage debate are concerned.

In Calgary, Bishop Fred Henry has been among the most vocal opponents of Same-Gender-Marriage (SGM), and is now utilizing church resources to raise his defense before the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal.

The argument is very interesting. The churches will argue that in their advocacy against SGM, they are in fact engaging in a charitable act intended to better society. On the other side of the coin you have the argument that says that such activity is in fact political activism, and therefore should not be treated as "charitable".

If the lawsuits involved do anything, it is to further raise the tension between freedoms guaranteed in separate sections of the Charter of Rights in this nation. In one sense, I am sympathetic to the Churches - after all they have long held themselves to be the "shepherds" of society, and part of that ministry has traditionally been to act as a voice of conscience. On the other hand, I can understand why there would be considerable secular opposition to Churches acting as political lobby groups.

In the case of Bishop Henry, for example, his "pastoral letters" - ostensibly intended for distribution through the Church sermons on Sundays have also been published under the guise of his monthly column in the Calgary Sun newspaper. Now, while the letters themselves may be defensible within the context of the Church - and the sermon held in the church - when they are further propogated as columns in a local newspaper, one has to wonder if the Bishop has in fact stepped out of the realm of legitimate ministry and acts of charity, and is now acting as a political lobbyist.

Since I cannot start a lobby organization to support SGM, and have it declared a "charity" under Canada's tax laws, it does seem to stand to equal reason that when the Churches step into the discussion as political lobbyists that they are no longer acting as charitable organizations (in the sense that the income tax act stipulates).

Of course, the conservatives (especially the religious conservatives) will perceive this as a further attack on their religious freedoms. As I have argued many times before, this is not an attack on the freedom of religion, but rather seems to me to have a lot more to do with determining the boundaries between the various freedoms as established in the Charter.

In as much as the Roman Catholic Churches have not been challenged over their refusal to treat women as equals within the Church hierarchy in this country, it seems unlikely to me that any legal challenge to change the status of SGM within the church itself would go very far. That is to say, the rights of the Church, and its ministers, to refuse to marry a SGM couple would remain intact, protected under the Section 2 stipulation of freedom of conscience and belief. Remember, not even the Supreme Court could take away Section 2 for the individual clergy - only an act of Parliament invoking the NotWithStanding clause (section 33) - something that I would point out that _ONLY_ the Conservative Party has advocated invoking.

It may be that the current taxation regime is inadequate in its granting of 'charitable' / 'non-charitable' status to organizations on a polar basis. It could be that it is now necessary to further stipulate which activities a given donation will go to. For example, a donation to the Church (Charitable Entity) could only be used for legitimate charity causes. Donations for political action causes would have to be separately tagged and earmarked in the accounting.


Anonymous said...

However, if you look at the agenda of the churches - largely political. And if the Feds went ahead with changes to "charitable" status in the eyes of the taxman - the Catholic Church would be first to go.

I wonder if Mr Craig Chander of Concerned Christians Canada has applied for HIS Charitable status yet - somehow, I wouldn't be surprised if he has it in place already.

Grog said...

In fairness to the greater body of churches, most of them are deeply involved in filling the gaps in social services - legitimately charitable organizations.

People like Bishop Henry, or Craig Chandler for that matter, seem to be more the exception than the rule.