7. Definition of “religion” or “belief”
52. Both the Equality Act 2006 and the Education and Inspections Act 2006 provide that “religion” means any religion, that “belief” means any religious or philosophical belief and that a reference to these terms also includes a reference to lack of either religion or belief. In addition, judgements have given further guidance on the court’s role in identifying a religious belief calling for protection under freedom of thought, conscience and religion, notably the House of Lords in the recent case of R. (Williamson) v. Secretary of State for Education and Employment (2005) UKHL 15.
53. Furthermore, the Charities Act 2006 introduced a statutory definition of charitable purposes, one of which is “the advancement of religion”. It defines the term religion to include religions which involve belief in more than one god and religions which do not involve belief in a god. Atheists and non-theists informed the Special Rapporteur that the advancement of humanism is not in itself a charitable purpose, whereas the advancement of religion is. Consequently, humanist institutions have to justify their charitable status under some other purpose recognized as charitable under existing charity law or analogous to or within the spirit of purposes enumerated in section 2 (2) of the Charities Act 2006. Under the previous charities law there was a presumption that purposes for the advancement of religion are for the public benefit unless there is evidence to the contrary. The Charities Act 2006 requires all charities to prove that they benefit the public, thus putting all charitable purposes on the same footing. Following consultation from March to June 2007, the Charity Commission is currently developing guidance on the principles of public benefit and the operation of the public benefit requirement. Furthermore, it intends to start another consultation in 2008 on draft supplementary guidance on public benefit for charities for the advancement of religion.