Monday, August 30, 2010

Kiwi common sense

The New Zealand branch of a notorious American ultra-fundamentalist anti-gay group has been refused registration as a charity in New Zealand. It’s another example of common sense Kiwi values in action.

Exodus Ministries New Zealand, which runs an “ex gay” “therapy”, applied for registration as a charity, claiming that it was carrying out charitable work as defined by law. The Charities Commission disagreed because the group’s clear mission is anti-gay (the PDF of the decision is available online).

As part of its determination, the Commission listed relevant credible scientific studies that call into question the validity of “reparative therapy” (as the “ex-gay” scam is also known), as well as pointing out the harm it does. A group cannot claim to be a charity if its work causes public harm, as “reparative therapy” does.

Moreover, the Commission noted:
“In New Zealand, the Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986 decriminalised sexual relations between men aged 16 and over and the Human Rights Act 1993 makes sexual orientation a prohibited ground of discrimination. Moreover, New Zealand now recognises civil unions between members of the same sex.”
The dubious claims about benefits of “reparative therapy” and the equality of gay New Zealanders matters because a group cannot claim to be conducting charitable activities for the benefit of New Zealand when that work could cause harm to a segment of society. Which is why the Commission declared:
"In light of the above, the Commission considers that it is not able to determine whether the Applicant will, or will not, provide a benefit to the public that will outweigh any harm caused by the Applicant's purposes. Accordingly, the Commission is unable to determine whether the Applicant's purposes will provide a public benefit."
In New Zealand, religion gets no automatic special rights just because it’s a religion. Instead, the same rules apply to religious-based groups as for any other group seeking to operate as a charity. This is how it should be in the US, too, but isn’t.

Even though they’re not a charity, Exodus can still conduct their “ministry”; although other laws could, in theory, prevent them from conducting activities that harm people, I suspect that as long as it remained exclusively within the context of a church, they would probably get away with it. What they will miss out on is that contributions to them aren’t tax-deductible and not being a registered charity could make it hard for them to get grants (assuming they’d even be eligible for any).

This seems like a fairly common sense approach: Their freedom of speech and religious belief is protected, so they’re free to peddle their nonsense, but without the sanction of the state. While I’d prefer to see them banned from New Zealand altogether for peddling quack “cures” of homosexuality, I’m at least glad that they can’t masquerade as a real charity.


Unknown said...

This is the perfect answer to their application. They cannot claim to be being discriminated against themselves, and they are shown to be a harmful organisation, so people can make their own minds up about supporting them. I LOVE Kiwi common sense :)

Arthur Schenck said...

I agree. I do wonder, though, if given Exodus' pettiness and anti-gay focus if they may go after Rainbow Youth and try to get them removed from the charities register. Kiwi common sense would prevail there, too, of course, but I wouldn't put it past the radical right to try all the same.