Conservative Christian organisation Family First stripped of charitable status

This is the first non-job-search-related thing I’ve written in a long time! I learnt a lot whilst researching it – especially my lack of knowledge about historical cases in New Zealand, and law in general. 

As someone who experienced the ideology that Family First now propagates – before it became a registered charity – through both my family and church, this was a personal piece for me to write. I was taken out of basic health and sex education classes in the public schools I attended because they weren’t abstinence-only. I grew up around people who made me believe that gay and transgender people were ‘broken’, that abortion was ‘murder’, that sex was shameful, and that any couple who divorced was ‘taking the easy route’. I was smacked on almost a daily basis well into primary school and parented with tactics that had little empathy or understanding for mistakes made or questions asked. Having experienced the after-effects of this upbringing and the struggle to break out of this mindset, I can assert that the policies that Family First pushes for are restrictive, narrow-minded and harmful to a healthy society. 

The Independent Charities Registration Board announced on 21 August that Family First is to be stripped of its charitable status.

The Charities Board made the decision to de-register Family First on the basis that its current activities cannot be determined to be for the public benefit, in a charitable sense.

The Conservative Christian lobby group advocates for religion-based policies on a huge variety of issues, from gay marriage, school ball dress codes, transgender folks rights, divorce, sex education, traditional families, pornography and abortion. Many of their campaigns and ideologies go against Human Rights Commission recommendations,[1] and push for the restriction of rights – except for the right to hit your child – they want no restrictions that one.  Family First has also been criticised by academics for the ‘high-school level’ quality of their statistical analysis and research.[2] Like far too many Christian organisations, Family First focuses on criticism and condemnation, rather than focusing its plentiful resources into evidence-based support that would help families flourish.

What deregistration means for Family First is that it will not be able to claim tax exemptions for its donations, and donations to the group will no longer qualify for the donation rebate. According to Independent Charities Registration Board chair Roger Homes Miller, Family First will have the freedom to continue communicating its views and influencing policy and legislation following deregistration.

Despite this, Family First says that its deregistration from the Charities Board is a breach of its freedom of speech, and it will appeal the decision ‘as far as it needs to’ in the Wellington High Court. Family First’s National director is calling the Board’s decision politicised, politically correct, inconsistent, and a ‘muzzling of free speech’. McCoskrie also says that ‘we should always be concerned when the state determines what views are acceptable and what views are unacceptable.’

Family First was first removed from the Charities Register back in 2013 as its objectives were found to be primarily ‘political and not the provision of social, educational or other charitable services as defined under the Charities Act 2004’. It challenged this decision in court, and the Board was consequently ordered to reconsider their decision by the High Court, in light of an earlier Supreme Court judgement recognising Greenpeace’s political advocacy as a charitable act in 2014. However, that judgement did not determine Greenpeace’s charitable status; instead, it referred the Greenpeace application back to the Board for determination. Greenpeace is currently not a registered charity.[3]

According to with the High Court’s directions in 2015, the Board had been reconsidering whether Family First meets the criteria to be a registered charity since this time. This decision takes into account both the integrity of the Charities Register, and whether it is in the public interest to remove Family First from the Register.[4] Family Firsts’ inevitable upcoming appeal will undoubtedly produce some interesting arguments to counter this well-founded, legally sound decision.

Freedom of Speech is Not a Licence to abuse. It is a responsibility.

[1] http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2017/08/family-first-angry-people-might-be-allowed-to-choose-what-gender-s-on-their-birth-certificate.html

[2] http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/80508306/lobby-group-family-first-blames-unmarried-couples-for-child-poverty

[3] https://www.charities.govt.nz/news-and-events/hot-topics/update-on-family-first-new-zealand-from-the-independent-charities-registration-board/

[4] https://www.charities.govt.nz/news-and-events/hot-topics/update-on-family-first-new-zealand-from-the-independent-charities-registration-board-2/

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