From my diary

Well, that was a day that I intended to spend with Mithras!  But a member of staff decided to turn up at 1pm, rather than at 9am, and that put paid to that.

However a few interesting stories have emerged in the media today.  There is a volcano erupting in Russia and temperatures of -20 C in Moscow on Wednesday, for instance.

Via eChurch blog I learned of an update on the story of the Exclusive Brethren, whose charitable status was removed by the Charities Commission on grounds that seemed to involve turning itself into a regulator of “approved” and “unapproved” Christian groups.  Law and Religion UK have the story:

Anthony Collins Solicitors LLP has now issued a briefing on the latest developments in the controversy which repays reading in full. It reports the outcome of a meeting on 11 December between the Commission’s Chief Legal Adviser,  the Commission’s Head of Policy, two representatives of the Evangelical Alliance and Phil Watts (a Senior Associate in the charities team at Anthony Collins) at which the following clarifications and assurances were obtained:

  • that under the current law the provision of services of public worship which are genuinely open to anyone to attend is in itself sufficient to satisfy the public benefit requirement even if, in practice, the numbers attending such services are small;
  • that there is no difficulty in restricting access to the sacrament of Holy Communion in accordance with denominational requirements: difficulties only arise if restrictions are imposed upon access to the worship services of which the sacrament forms a part;
  • that the Commission will not involve itself in matters of doctrine except where the outworking of particular doctrinal beliefs impacts upon the public benefit of the organisation: in practice, the Commission understands this to mean situations where the outworking of particular doctrines may give rise to detriment or harm, in which case this must be weighed against the positive public benefit in order to determine whether or not, on balance, charitable status is appropriate; and
  • the Commission’s decision-making process is likely to become more streamlined, increasing the likelihood of appeals concerning decisions of the Commission having to be made to the First-tier Tribunal.

The Tribunal’s latest directions hearing was on 3 December.

In the House of Commons, Peter Bone, Conservative MP for Wellingborough, successfully presented a Ten Minute Rule Motion on 19 December that “leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Charities Act 2011 to treat all religious institutions as charities; and for connected purposes”. The motion was approved by 166 to 7. However, his bill is highly unlikely to make any further progress…

I think that the action of the Evangelical Alliance was very appropriate, as they represent considerable numbers of small independent congregations, each at risk of being targeted in exactly the same way as the Exclusive Brethren (who are not EA members, but, as far as I can make out, are more like the British equivalent of US groups like the Amish or Mennonites).

Peter Bone MP’s action was also a good thing, indicating a very proper desire that the Charities Act should not be used as a pretext for attacks on Christians.  The Charities Commission now seems to be moving back from the extreme position that it had adopted, and this can only be welcome.

It is an old maxim that an unpopular ruler may make himself secure by operating a policy of divide-and-rule; by stirring up resentments between different sections of the population, making each afraid of encroachment by others, and therefore ever on the look-out for such encroachments.  In our unhappy society, our ruling class creates ever more privileges for this group and that group, and sets one against another.  In the process we find bigotry spreading its wings, that once would have been dismissed out of hand.  We learn of just such a story via eChurch blog is at the UK Human Rights blog.  A Catholic school is proposed for Richmond.  Some atheist group or other, boiling with hate at the thought that Catholic parents might send Catholic children to receive a Catholic education, rather than have them indoctrinated in the values of our masters, has objected and demanded a judicial review.  In times gone past, in a free country, they would have been sent about their bigoted business; for what business is it of theirs?  Our rulers, however, would much rather interfere, and make sure the Catholics know that they are only permitted to exist by our masters’ good pleasure.  Such is the way of serfdom.

Another eChurch blog story highlights that the mobile phone companies in the UK are censoring the internet.  In this case, churches associated with the New Wine movement are being blocked because … yes … they must be about alcohol!  I hadn’t realised that our masters had introduced prohibition, tho.  The Open Rights Group has the story.

About this time last year we wrote about a church that had been blocked by O2’s mobile Internet filters. Following this, we set up, a site which allows people to report ‘over-blocking’ on their mobile networks.

With somewhat uncanny timing, this morning someone used to tell us about another church (St. Mark’s in Southampton) that is blocked – this time on Vodafone. We have confirmed that it is also blocked by Orange. The site is blocked on O2’s highest blocking setting, but not on their ‘default safety’ service.

Using O2’s very handy ‘URL checker‘, we have established that they classify the site as ‘alcohol’. It is likely that this is the category that has led to its blocking on other networks, but this is not confirmed.

These stories may seem funny; but they aren’t actually funny at all.  I have long known that US right-wing political site Five Feet of Fury is blocked by O2.

Oh, how I long, sometimes, for the days before all these censors!  How I long for the simpler days before all these people determined that they would stop other people doing this, saying that, looking at this.  Censorship is entirely defensible on moral grounds, by appealing to the Law of Moses, to the Ten Commandments, to the Natural Law.  But no-one is doing that.  Instead we are drifting into a censorship of whatever those in power do not want seen, heard, said.


More on the Charities Commission and the Brethren

Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail today comments:

With what chewing-gum officialdom knots the shoelaces of its masters.

Take a select committee meeting yesterday examining the charities world.

Our witness was William Shawcross, new chairman of the Charity Commission. Mr Shawcross is successor to Dame Suzi Leather. You remember Dame Suzi: Labour’s little Miss Snippety Snoot, one of the shrewd schmoozers of soft socialism’s posh pod.

It took the Tories a while to strap her to the bucket of a catapult, but eventually they managed it and off Suzi ker-jannnnged, despatched to outer space. Cheers from a relieved nation.


For a third time did the cock fail to crow. This happened during a long, exciting discussion about the commission’s record on religious charities.

Some years ago it recognised druidism as a charity with a public benefit.

And yet now it has refused to grant similar recognition to the Plymouth Brethren (reclusive Christians). Mr Elphicke and his Tory colleagues Robert Halfon  (Harlow) and Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) were not impressed by this decision.

How come the druids got the green light but the Plymouth Brethren were given the elbow?

Mr Halfon attacked hard, saying that he thought the Commission was ‘vindictive’. Mr Cairns, more diplomatic, urged the newly-arrived Mr Shawcross to demand a rethink from his officials.

I may be misreading Mr Shawcross’s body language but I got the impression that he possibly agreed with Messrs Halfon and Cairns.

And yet he ummed and ahhh’d and played things safe. If he disagreed with the MPs, he could (should) have said: ‘What rubbish!’ If he agreed with them, he should have said ‘you’re right, guys’.

Instead we just had an impression of inertia, of a chairman who has been taken hostage by the body politic.

I was not aware that “druidism” had been designated by the state as a religion of public benefit, I must admit. 

But it does sound like the MP’s are on top of this one.  “Vindictive” is precisely the right term for what Dame Suzi Leather and her sidekicks decided to do to the Exclusive Brethren.


Aesopica: the horse and the stag

The Fables of Aesop reach us through many derivative collections, such as those of Phaedrus and Babrius.  To edit a collection of them is no doubt a serious business.  But the fables are not lacking in contemporary relevance.

In Britain the Exclusive Brethren church is being attacked by the Charities Commission, which seems to want to set itself up as arbiter of “allowed” and “not allowed” churches.  The Exclusive Brethren are a reclusive lot, not without some suspicion of being cult-like, and ex-members feel quite a bit of antipathy towards them.  Some of the stories that one may read online are hair-raising.  In consequence there are ex-members who are wildly cheering on the Commission, without considering whether this is in their own interests.  

I do wish that these people — who may well have legitimate grievances — would look at the larger picture.  Their grievances will not be addressed by this method.

I do not believe that this is about the Exclusive Brethren, and still less about those who may have been injured by it.  The Charities Commission does not give a damn about either of them.  All of them, to a London-based organisation, are nobodies.  The Commission does not care whether the Exclusive Brethren is a cult. 

I suspect — I am not alone in so suspecting — that the Commssion chose the organisation, in order to create a precedent, to create case-law.   This precedent would give it very considerable powers, to decide which religious groups would, and would not be allowed to operate without crushing financial penalties.  So it chose a small, not very popular, little known group as the object of its attack.  It may well have hoped that the Brethren would just take it, or be unable to afford lawyers.   

The question we all need to ask here is not whether we like the Brethren.  Rather it is this.  Is it a good idea to create a Soviet-style “Commission for Religious Cults”, with whom churches must register, and who can apply financial penalties if it chooses?  Few of us would think so.  That is the issue before us.

This all reminded me of a fable, which, after some hunting around I found.  Interestingly there is a retelling of it by Isaac Asimov, which I will give first.

 A horse having a wolf as a powerful and dangerous enemy lived in constant fear of his life. Being driven to desperation, it occured to him to seek a strong ally. Whereupon he approached a man, and offered an alliance, pointing out that the wolf was likewise an enemy of the man. The man accepted the partnership at once and offered to kill the wolf immediately, if his new partner would only co-operate by placing his greater speed at the man’s disposal. The horse ws willing, and allowed the man to place bridle and saddle upon him. The man mounted, hunted down the wolf, and killed him.

The horse, joyful and relieved, thanked the man, and said: ‘Now that our enemy is dead, remove your bridle and saddle and restore my freedom.’

Whereupon the man laughed loudly and replied, ‘The hell you say. Giddy-ap, Dobbin,’ and applied the spurs with a will.[1]

The ex-members are the horse; the wolf is the Brethren; and the man is the Charities Commission.

Searching for this, I came across a website dedicated to the Aesopica, run by Laura Gibbs who published a translation.  It’s rather wonderful!  It includes the Greek and Latin.  Here is Gibb’s translation of the original:


Perry 269 (Aristotle, Rhetoric 1393b)

There was a horse who was the sole owner of a meadow. Then a stag came and wreaked havoc in the meadow. The horse wanted to get revenge, so he asked a certain man if he would help him carry out a vendetta against the stag. The man agreed, provided that the horse took the bit in his mouth so that the man could ride him, wielding his javelin. The horse consented, and the man climbed on his back but instead of getting his revenge, the horse simply became a slave to the man.

Note: In some versions of this story, it is a boar, not a stag, who provokes the horse’s reckless anger (e.g., Phaedrus 4.4). There is an interesting version of this story in a fragment of the Greek historian Conon (cited in van Dijk 7T3), and the fable is also found in Horace, Epistles 1.10.34 ff.[2]

 The Greek text of Chambray’s edition is also online here.  Gibbs adds:

Chambry published a multivolume edition of the fables for the Belles Lettres series in 1925/6 (Paris). He later revised this into a single volume, omitting hundreds of the fable variants. In addition, the numeration between these two volumes is not consistent. The texts here are taken from the 1925/6 edition, but the numeration follows the stanard single volume edition.

Like most people, I have only a hazy idea of the transmission of the Fables.  But how very, very useful to have a reliable source online!

UPDATE: The Chambry text seems to be entitled Fabulae recensuit Aemilius Chambry.

  1. [1]Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy, part III, chapter 8.
  2. [2]Aesop’s Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World’s Classics): Oxford, 2002.

Plymouth Brethren banned in Britain

Or they might as well be, if their members have to pay 33% tax on every penny they donate, and the church then has to hand over 20% of all donations to the state.

From the Daily Mail:

MPs are demanding an inquiry into the Charity  Commission after the watchdog banned a Christian group from charitable status on  the grounds that religion is not always for ‘public benefit’.

More than 50 MPs from all the main parties  have signed a Commons motion calling on the charity regulator to think again,  amid fears that hundreds of religious groups could be stripped of their  tax-exempt status, threatening their very existence.

They accuse the Charity Commission of ‘politically correct bias’ against faith groups after it ruled that the Preston  Down Trust of the Plymouth Brethren Church – which has 16,000 members across  Britain – is not entitled to charitable status because it does not do enough  good works in the community.

MPs say the ruling is ‘outrageous’ because it  ignored the way the group, which has enjoyed charitable status for 50 years,  runs soup kitchens for the poor and hospital visits for the sick.

Tory MP Robert Halfon said: ‘There is  something rotten in the Charity Commission. I cannot understand why the  Brethren, good people who do so much in their communities, have been singled  out.

‘I believe an inquiry is needed into the role  of the Charity Commission, to consider how it came to make the decision. What  has happened is unjust and is creating fear in many churches across the  country.’

In a ruling that sent shockwaves through even  the established church, the Charity Commission ruled that its decision ‘makes it  clear that there was no presumption that religion generally, or at any more  specific level, is for the public benefit, even in the case of Christianity or  the Church of England’.

It’s great news!  Yes, the establishment has rediscovered the Test Act and the Act of Uniformity!!!!

I was so missing the days when the state decided which religions were “authorised” and “not authorised”.  We got rid of that around 1850.  Now, at last, once again we can sneer at people as “dissenters” and subject them to discriminatory taxes and legal penalties.

And that should show these dissenters which way their bread is buttered.  After all, if they aren’t a charity, they will have to pay 20% corporation tax on all donations.  David Cameron will take 20% of every church collection.  And …. those donations won’t be eligible for gift aid either.  So church members will have to pay 33% tax on every penny they donate, and then the church will have to pay 20% of whatever pennies they receive.  That’s teach them not to conform, the vile dissenting creeps!  Hang them!  Burn them!


More seriously, this is evil news.  It has been a long, long time since we have had state servants operating a system of “approved” and “unapproved” churches, with legal penalties and discrimination against the latter.  Abolishing all that sort of thing in the mid-19th century allowed half of England back into public life.

This is, of course, a political case.  The Charities Commission — whoever that is — made their decision based on political grounds.  The political left has a deep hatred for Christianity.  The Exclusive Brethren look like a small, powerless group, unlikely to have friends at London dinner parties.  No doubt the inquisitors decided that they looked like suitably helpless victims.

The Charities Commission used to be an innocuous group.  But there is very little practical difference between banning an organisation which relies on donations, and levying on it the brutal taxation to which small businesses in Britain (but not big ones like Vodaphone, Google, Starbucks, and so on) are subjected.  Indeed that is rather the point; to persecute while disclaiming the name, to harass while claiming to be impartial.

I am not a member of the Brethren, about whom I know little.  But I do know that they are a small and harmless group who cause no-one any trouble and who have been quietly doing their own thing for decades.  Only a complete shit would decide to attack them.

Evil days indeed, these.

UPDATE:  The New American also reports on this.

Two members of Parliament have defended the Brethren. The first is Charlie Elphicke, who called the attack on the church “anti-religion,” LifeSiteNews reported. Elphicke, a member of the committee that uncovered the letter from the commission, told members of the Brethren that the charity bureaucrats “are committed to the suppression of religion and you are the little guys being picked on to start off a whole series of other churches who will follow you there.”

Another member of parliament, conservative Bernard Jenkin, explained a larger purpose in the government’s attack on the Brethren, said LifeSite:

“The Commission seems to be using the group as a test case to establish the meaning of the public benefit requirement in charity law,” he said.

“Picking a relatively vulnerable organisation and putting you through huge time and expense is a rotten way to decide what charity law means,” Jenkin said.


There is a useful article at the Third Sector site here.


British MP attacks Charity Commission attempt to tax the Brethren

Good news.  British MP Douglas Carswell today writes how absurd it is that a modern quango is involving itself in deciding which religious groups are allowed to be charities, and which must be taxed:

Religious freedom means – amongst other things – allowing practitioners of a faith to decide for themselves who is, and who is not, part of their denomination. In other words, they can be as exclusive as they like.

The Charity Commission is imposing a state dogma of uber inclusivity on to a religious group that chooses to be moderately exclusive. Not very Big Society, is it?

Once again, when state officials make a decision on what constitutes public interest or benefit, actual members of the public – such as those Brethren who live in my part of Essex – have no say.  If the Brethren fail to tick all the Charity Commission’s boxes, change the Commission and their boxes.  

Instead of replacing one quango chief with another, we need to overturn the dogma that says it is any business of state officials to be sitting in judgement of faith groups in this way in the first place.

I wrote about this story here.  It is good to see that mainstream conservatives have no desire to engage in this 17th century business.


British Government to take 20% of church collections in tax

A story has surfaced (via eChurch blog) that some small Brethren churches were being “denied charitable status” on the grounds that the “2006 Act removed the presumption of public benefit from certain classes of charity including religious charities”.  Another small church is having its charitable status “revoked”.  But this rather hides what is happening here.

This means that these churches will now be treated as businesses for tax purposes.  This in turn means that their income will be subject to corporation tax at 20%.  It means that David Cameron will be taking one pound out of every five from the collection plate of these tiny west-country churches.

That’s quite a proposal.  It has, as far as I can tell, attracted little press comment.

Julian Brazier MP comments here:

In particular, they feel that the Commission’s decision runs counter to the assurances given by both Government Ministers and the Commission itself, that established religions should not find themselves denied charitable status as a result of the provisions of the 2006 Act.

Some of us knew what would happen, even then.  This Is Cornwall comments:

The Westcountry branch of   an evangelical Christian movement is to become a test case for legislation which could strip thousands of religious groups of their charitable status.

Preston Down Trust, which runs meeting halls for the   non-conformist Exclusive Brethren in Torquay, Paignton and Newton Abbot, is fighting exclusion under the Charities Act. …

Colin Hart, director of the Christian Institute, said it was “alarming” the commission was “getting involved in assessing whether they like a particular religious belief, whether they think it has a benefit or disbenefit”.

The Charities Commission has cynically “welcomed” the “chance to clarify the law” by putting this tiny and harmless group through the misery of a drawn-out court case.

Another report is here.


UK: Brethren church refused charitable status

A group of Exclusive Brethren churches in the UK have been refused charitable status.  From here:

A Brethren church has been denied charitable status, in a move which  some claim could lead other Christian groups into difficulties….

This is the first time that charitable status has been refused to a religious group, since changes were made, requiring applicants to demonstrate the ‘public benefit’ of their work.

The introduction of the Charities Act 2006, means that the advancement of religion alone is not enough to make an organisation eligible for charitable status.

Because of the relatively closed and exclusive nature of the Brethren churches, it may be difficult to demonstrate this. …

Preston Downs is not alone in the struggle, it’s appeal has been lodged alongside one by the trustees of the Horsforth Gospel Hall Trust, a Leeds-based Brethren group that was granted charitable status in 1988.

The Commission spokeswoman explained: … “The 2006 Act removed the presumption of public benefit from certain classes of charity including religious charities.

All of this arises from a piece of spite by the then government.  The charities legislation was amended, and a new chairperson installed at the Charities Commission.  The object was nothing to do with benefiting the public, but as a means to attack the public schools, such as Eton and Harrow, which are all charities.  It is expensive to educate your children privately; the idea was to make it even more expensive by levying tax on them, thereby forcing many to close and restricting access only to the very wealthy, or, at the very least, subjecting them to endless harassment under pretext of “investigation”.  The law was made very complex, which of course placed power in the hands of the Charities Commission to allow or withhold at a whim.   Instead of some simple categories of activity, a body disfavoured by the establishment might find itself obliged to “prove” that it did things that the establishment agreed with.

It was always clear to me that this tool would be used, sooner or later, against the churches.  It looks as if some minor bureaucrat has initiated the purge.  Forcing these tiny churches to pay 20% tax on everything they collect would force them to cease to exist.  The churches could not own their own buildings; would be forced to disincorporate, to find ways and loopholes simply to exist.  Just imagine the “inspections” by tax officials, to “make sure the correct amount of tax is being paid”, etc!  Just imagine the council officials, “questioning” the use of the building, whether it conforms to planning laws since it can’t be a church, yet worship is going on!

We’re squarely in religious persecution territory here.  Some may feel this is exaggerated language.  No-one is being killed.

But I would suggest that anyone so inclined read into descriptions of what it was like to be a Christian in the old USSR.  The creation of an environment deliberately designed to harass believers at every turn is exactly what Stalin did.  If that works, by itself, you don’t need to apply the harsher methods of arrests, beatings and executions.

Every persecutor, from Julian the Apostate down, has adopted this method.  It’s much harder to battle against, and it allows the persecutor to claim that no persecution is going on.  This in turn makes it harder for confessors to rally against the attack.  The seeming vagueness is itself a designed technique for persecution.

In this case matters will probably work out.  There is no longer a Labour government in power, determined to attack those it hates by any means possible.  The current government has no views on this; the Charities Commission has gone very quiet since the fall of the Labour government; and no-one has any special interest in these particular churches.  There will be an “appeal” — no doubt this will cost the churches in lawyers’ fees — and a ruling permitting, in this case, the churches to register will be given.

But the principle has been set; that churches may be slapped with a tax of 20%, depending on the favour of officials.  Such a situation has not prevailed in Britain since the middle of the 19th century, when the laws creating religious discrimination were abolished.

It is an evil day.  Shame on Britain, for allowing this.