The Charity Commission has criticised the Christian Institute for breaching the terms of its charitable status in a letter sent this August. It has ordered the Institute to change its subtitle, “influencing public policy”, and accused it of engaging in politics. Following complaints and a formal investigation, the commission has told the institute that its aims of furthering and promoting the Christian religion and the advancement of education in accordance with certain Christian doctrines and principles have not been obvious in its campaigns.
It criticised its 1998 publication Homosexuality and Young People for failing to articulate a Christian view. The Commission also criticised the publication Bankrolling Gay Proselytism: The case for extending section 28, which in isolation, it said, “could be viewed as overtly political for a charity publication”. “It is not acceptable for a charity to declare particular purposes which stray from [its] stated objectives. Normally a charitable research body is required to analyse and assimilate all the evidence … there were occasions when the link between the charitable object and the publication was not always clear.”
The Commission met the Institute in May last year after complaints that it was a political lobbying association for conservative Christian values, and that some of its publications were “of a political or propagandist nature”.
Though there is no absolute prohibition on charities’ undertaking political activities, their work must be “reasonable” and any associated publications must be “balanced and unemotive”. After its meeting with the Commission, the Institute removed its subtitle, “influencing public policy”, from its website. The Commission urged caution in using words like “think tank” and “research organisation”, and advised the Institute that it was not acceptable to list its stated aims as being to “challenge humanism, relativism and other ideologies”, as this strayed from its objectives.
A spokesman for the Charity Commission said that it had not accused the Institute of engaging in politics. “The charity fully accepts that the message it seeks to convey in its publications should be consistently linked to its aims,” he said. The Commission found that there had been no inappropriate use of charity resources in respect of parliamentary lobbying over the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill.
The Christian Institute reacted angrily to suggestions in the press that it had been the object of a formal inquiry by the Charity Commission. Baroness Young is a patron of the Institute, and both were of course prominent in campaigning against lowering the age of homosexual consent and the repeal of clause 28.
Colin Hart, the institute’s director, accused opponents of making politically motivated complaints. He said: “We are certainly involved in political activity: that’s no secret. The question is whether it was appropriate or inappropriate. We would say that we shouldn’t always have to give chapter-and-verse authority, but we do accept that where debate becomes contentious politically, there’s a greater onus on us as a charity to make our stance more explicit.” Mr Hart said that a chapter on theology had been dropped for lack of space in the homosexuality report. “We didn’t get that right. We have been asked in a sense to be more Christian and to make things more explicit. We certainly could never object to that”.
Gay Times had reported one complainant as saying: “It seems that the Christian Institute can work long and hard behind the scenes in Parliament on legislative matters and still be classed as a charity. All they were told is to be more careful in future. It seems as though they can do pretty much what they want, without much fear of a comeback.”