NZ Herald 1 July 2015
A charities lawyer says charities can now speak out on political issues without fear after a landmark High Court judgment overturning the deregistration of the lobby group Family First.
Sue Barker of Wellington law firm Sue Barker Charities Law said “hundreds” of charities would be affected by the judgment, which follows on from an earlier Supreme Court judgment last August ordering the Charities Board to reconsider its deregistration of Greenpeace.
Both organisations were deregistered on the grounds that their purposes were primarily “political” rather than “charitable”.
Deregistration means that they cannot claim tax exemptions for their donations, and usually means that the Inland Revenue Department will no longer allow donors to claim tax rebates for donating money to them.
A majority of the Supreme Court in the Greenpeace case ruled that an organisation with charitable purposes could also have political purposes, depending on the objectives being advocated and the means used to promote those objectives.
It held that the objectives did not have to be generally accepted and could be “controversial”, and ordered the Charities Board to reconsider Greenpeace’s application for registration.
A Greenpeace spokesman said today that Greenpeace was about to resubmit its application “in the next few days”.
High Court Justice David Collins has now ordered the board to reconsider Family First’s case too. He said Family First would still need to show that its role was “of benefit to the public” by analogy to other cases, but he warned against applying that test too narrowly by comparing Family First only with existing charities.
“It is essential that the Charities Board not undertake its analogical assessment by seeking to carefully match Family First’s purposes with organisations that have achieved recognition as charitable entities. Doing so would risk undermining the Supreme Court’s recognition, for the first time, that political purposes are not excluded from being classified as charitable,” he said.
“…I am saying, however, that the analogical analysis which the Charities Board must undertake should be informed by examining whether Family First’s activities are objectively directed at promoting the moral improvement of society.
“This exercise should not be conflated with a subjective assessment of the merits of Family First’s views. Members of the Charities Board may personally disagree with the views of Family First, but at the same time recognise that there is a legitimate analogy between its role and those organisations that have been recognised as charities. Such an approach would be consistent with the obligation on members of the Charities Board to act with honesty, integrity and in good faith.”
Ms Barker praised the judgment as restating Voltaire’s famous saying that, “I may not agree with what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”.
“Deregistration as a charity effectively can kill a charity, so it’s not respecting your right to freedom of expression if you are going to be deregistered,” she said.
The judgment would be a huge relief for all charities which currently feared speaking out on public issues because they might be deregistered, she said.
“Every charity that might come across an issue that needs governmental action, that needs legislative action, that needs something to happen, every charity that wants to engage with the democratic process, had previously been scared that by speaking out it was going to be deregistered,” she said.
“The Supreme Court has made it clear that that should not be the case, but it’s not clear that the Charities Registration Board is applying it that way.”
The Family First judgment is online here.
Family First allowed to appeal charity decision
NewsTalk ZB 1 July 2015
The Charities Board decided to de-register the controversial lobby group in 2013 – according to Family First, this was because of its opposition to gay marriage.
Justice David Collins has told the Charities Board to reconsider its decision.
It follows a precedent set by a Greenpeace judgement last year, where the High Court ruled that charities can engage in political activities.
Family First National Director Bob McCoskrie said some charities have to advocate for political issues to support their concept and he hopes the Board will recognise this in future.
“Previously the Charities Board has been pretty inconsistent about that issue. The Supreme Court and now the judge’s comments in our case mean the Charities Board has got to be a lot more realistic,” he said.
“There’s a misunderstanding between a group that works with an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and somebody who puts an ambulance at the top of the cliff.”
“There are many charities who do one or the other or both.”
Family First charity status to be reconsidered
3News 1 July 2015
Family First will remain a tax-free charity after a High Court decision ordered the Charities Board to reconsider deregistering it.
The group’s national director Bob McCoskrie says the decision is a victory for charities who advocate for different causes especially in the context of a landmark Supreme Court decision which recognised Greenpeace’s political advocacy as a charitable act.
“It is a victory for open robust debate on issues that affect families,” Mr McCoskrie says.
The Charities Registration Board first notified Family First it wanted to de-register the lobby group in 2013.
It argued the group’s purpose was to “promote particular points of view about family life” and under the Act promoting a controversial point of view was a political purpose
The Wellington High Court heard the appeal late last month.
A written decision was released yesterday from Justice David Collins has ordered the board to reconsider its deregistering decision in the light of the Greenpeace ruling.
“The Charities Board’s analysis that Family First’s advocacy role is ‘controversial’ and therefore not self-evidently of benefit to the public will need to be reconsidered in light of the approach taken by the majority of the Supreme Court in Greenpeace.”
Family First had asked Charity Services to drop the case after the Greenpeace decision came out.
The group has been known to espouse controversial views around a number of issues including opposition same-sex marriage.
NZ Herald 1 July 2015