REALity June 2019
Storm Clouds Gathering over Religion
Religion is important to society. It is a unifying force within communities and provides direction and guidelines for appropriate behaviour for its members. In addition, religious belief provides an anchor, defining the purpose and meaning of life for many.
These are other major benefits of religion for the whole community as well:
A January 2019 study by the Washington-based public polling and data social research organization, Pew Research Center, which operates in over two dozen countries, found that religious belief leads to more active civil engagement in society in that 58% of religiously active individuals belong to at least one other non-religious organization, and 69% always vote in national elections. This is compared to just 39% of those unaffiliated to a religion, who belonged to a non-religious (civic) organization, and only 48% voted in national elections.
In addition, belief in a religion has been shown to be accompanied by an altruistic attitude, or an unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others. An Angus Reid poll, published in May, 2017, found that of individuals asked whether their priority in life was caring for others or their own personal fulfillment, 67% of the religiously committed favoured helping others, while 65% of non-believers chose the pursuit of their own happiness as their priority.
The generous financial contributions to communities by religious institutions is surprising. According to a Statistics Canada report, released in 2012, 93 % of religiously active Canadians had given money to one or more charitable or non-profit organizations, compared to 83% of non-religious or marginally non-religious individuals.
On March 5, 2019, Statistics Canada released a document entitled Non-profit institutions and volunteering: Economic Contributions 2007 to 2017. According to this study, which spans a wide range of non-profit institutions, including faith based groups, which make up 38.4% of such organizations, the contributions by charitable, non-profit organizations totaled $169.2 billion in 2017. Further, the religious based think tank, “Cardus”, conducted a study in Toronto in 2010 and found that for every dollar in a religious congregation’s budget, the community in which it was located received an estimated $4.77 in benefits. This is estimated to amount to $6.7 billion in Toronto, and, in a city such as Victoria, B.C., religious congregations provided more than $304 million in benefits.
In summary, it would appear that people with strong religious convictions have stronger social and altruistic values that benefit everyone. These characteristics cause religiously affiliated individuals to give more of their time and money to others. This is the reason churches establish public benefits such as soup kitchens, food banks, child care centres, homes for seniors, summer camps for children, and provide spaces for communities to assist youth groups, individuals suffering from addictions and abuse, and shelters for the homeless. These charitable works, carried out by faith based organizations, have served society over many generations.
What is a Charity?
The current definition of the word “charity”, surprisingly, is not found in Canadian legislation. Rather, the definition is based on an English statute passed in 1601 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. This statute laid out the four broadly recognized categories of charitable activity: (1) religion, (2) relief of the poor, (3) education and, (4) purposes beneficial to the community (philanthropic activities, such as hospitals and schools). These categories have been further enlarged over the years by a briar patch of judges’ rulings.
Because of their generous contributions, made for the betterment of society, these four charitable activities have been granted a tax exempt status in Canada under the Income Tax Act in order to encourage and continue their work.
Nothing over the years has changed the contributions made by charitable organizations. There is one exception, however, which is the charitable works surrounding those provided by religion. In recent decades, religion has fallen into disfavor because the progressive elites controlling our national agenda regard religion as an obstacle to achieving liberal objectives. That is, many religious individuals, such as some Christians, Orthodox Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims are determined to remain faithful to the basic precepts of their faith on such contemporary issues as abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, same-sex marriages, the liberalization of drugs, and prostitution, etc. In other words, individuals with these faith based beliefs refuse to accept the changes demanded by the radical thinkers on the left.
Pushing Religion From the Public Square
In order to overcome this faith based resistance, the progressives are attempting to push religion from the public square so that it will no longer be an integral part of the public dialogue. In order to accomplish this, they believe it is necessary to demean and discredit religious faith and its dedicated followers. Removing the tax exempt status of religious based organizations is part and parcel of this attempt to discredit and to deny recognition that religious faiths are a significant part of Canadian society. This situation has not been helped by the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, in June 2018, in the Trinity Western Christian Law School case. In that case, the court held that homosexual rights override the religious rights of the Christian university.
It is worrisome that the LGBT Community may, as a result, as their next strategic move, demand that the government strip charitable status from any church or institution that disagrees with its ideology. This recently occurred when a woman in a same sex relationship attended a Baptist Church in Oshawa, Ontario. The church removed her as a member on the grounds that she no longer shared the theological and doctrinal beliefs of the church. This decision placed the church in the crosshairs of LGBT activists who launched a letter writing campaign asking the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to remove the church’s charitable status since it was using its resources to promote “hate and intolerance”. This campaign is being promoted on the basis that if an institution receives benefits from the public purse, then it must not be permitted to promote such “hate and intolerance”.
Another example of the attempt to discredit religion is that of hardline secular activists who, in March of this year in the United Kingdom, pushed for the elimination of the advancement of religion as a charitable purpose, arguing that “promoting religion is not inherently a public benefit, and can sometimes even cause harm to society.”
Recently, the BC Humanist Association – a charitable organization – has campaigned to convince municipal councillors to pressure churches that currently enjoy broad property tax exemption, to prove their “value” to the community before obtaining such tax exemptions.
A similar attempt occurred several years ago at the City Council in Brampton, Ontario, where it was proposed that property taxes should be levied against churches. This proposal, however, was withdrawn.
We have also witnessed Justin Trudeau’s attempt to alienate many church based organizations by refusing to fund them under the federal Summer Jobs Program, if they do not accept the Liberal Party’s secular values on abortion and homosexuality. This caused such a backlash that Trudeau was forced to soften this demand in December 2018 by “amending” this controversial requirement. However, his proposed amendment was not meaningful, since it did not remove discrimination against religion. Trudeau will likely renew his restrictions on government funding for faith based groups should he win the October 2019 federal election.
Senate Committee on Charitable Activity
Another major concern re the place of religion in society as a charitable activity, is the Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector, established on January 30, 2018, to review the charitable status of such faith-based groups under the Income Tax Act.
The establishment of this committee was proposed by Liberal Senator Terry M. Mercer, who was subsequently appointed Chair of the Committee. Senator Mercer was the former Director of Fundraising for the Liberal Party of Canada.
This committee was initially required to report its findings by December 2018, but the deadline was extended to September 30, 2019. The delay has been a reprieve, since the Liberal government will not have an opportunity to bring forward any legislation, based on that committee’s recommendations, before the federal election that will be held only a few weeks later. It is likely that, should Justin Trudeau be re-elected in October, all bets are off, and the tax exempt status of faith based organizations will become a major issue in Canada.