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‘Stifling’ of advocacy by charities and churches

06 February 2015


From Dr Andrew Purkis
Sir, - You report that charities complain of being stifled in their campaigning and advocacy work by the Lobbying Act ("Lobbying Act stifling us, say charities", News, 30 January). But the threat to such work by churches and other charities is wider than that.

The Charity Commission itself has repeatedly appeared to show suspicion and even hostility to the political role of charities over the past two years. Most recently, in an official comment on its website on its investigation into complaints about a "Tweet" by Oxfam, it addresses this warning to the wider charity sector:

"Particular care should be taken to ensure that any material does not damage the charity's reputation, that messages are appropriate and in pursuit of its objectives and do not have any risk of being misinterpreted or perceived as party political" (my italics).

Yet it is clearly impossible to eliminate "any risk" of being misinterpreted as party political if one enters the arena of public debate - as our Archbishops discovered on the recent publication of On Rock or Sand? Being impossible, such guidance is unfair to Trustees. And because the only method of compliance is to seal one's lips completely, it places unacceptable restraints on the free speech of churches and other charities, and on their contribution to public debate in pursuit of their charitable objectives. Such guidance worms its way into risk-averse legal advice and adds to the "chilling effect" on charities' participation in our democratic life.

I hope the churches will not quietly accept such dangerous restraints.

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