The advancement of religion

This section brings together our guidance, reports, key decisions and other resources that could help trustees understand the scope of ‘the advancement of religion’.

What is meant by ‘the advancement of religion’?

1. For the purposes of charity law, a religion is a system of belief that has certain characteristics that have been identified in case law and clarified in the Charities Act 2006. Section 2(3) of the Charities Act states that:

“religion includes:

  • a religion which involves a belief in more than one god, and
  • a religion which does not involve a belief in a god”

2. The intention of the legislation was to make clear that religions that involve belief in more than one god and those that do not involve a belief in a god are included within the meaning of religion derived from existing case law.

3. When considering whether or not a system of belief constitutes a religion for the purposes of charity law, the courts have identified certain characteristics which describe a religious belief. These characteristics include:

  • belief in a god (or gods) or goddess (or goddesses), or supreme being, or divine or transcendental being or entity or spiritual principle (‘supreme being or entity’) which is the object or focus of the religion;
  • a relationship between the believer and the supreme being or entity by showing worship of, reverence for or veneration of the supreme being or entity;
  • a degree of cogency, cohesion, seriousness and importance;
  • an identifiable positive, beneficial, moral or ethical framework.

4. Examples of ways in which charities can advance religion include:

  • the provision of places of worship;
  • raising awareness and understanding of religious beliefs and practices;
  • carrying out religious devotional acts;
  • carrying out missionary and outreach work.

Charity Commission guidance

This guidance is currently under review

It no longer forms part of our public benefit guidance and should now be read together with our set of 3 public benefit guides. It will remain available to read until we publish replacement guidance.

The advancement of religion for the public benefit Guidance about the advancement of religion which includes supplementary public benefit guidance for charities whose aims include advancing religion.

This guidance explains the meaning of the advancement of religion. It also includes supplementary public benefit guidance for charities whose aims include the advancement of religion.

Related decisions of the Commission

The Church of Scientology (England and Wales)

Consideration of an application for charitable status by an organisation whose object was to advance religion and which promoted the belief system, doctrines and practices known as Scientology.

The decision includes consideration of the relevance of the European Convention on Human Rights to considering and interpreting the relevant legal authorities, with respect to advancing religion, promoting moral or spiritual welfare or improvement of the community and public benefit.

The Church of Scientology (England and Wales) Decision

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Good News for Israel (“GNFI”)

Consideration of an application for charitable status by an organisation with objects which included the advancement of the Jewish religion by (amongst other means) promoting the doctrine of Aliyah, being the promotion of the return of Jewish people to the land promised to them by God.

The Commission concluded that GNFI is not charitable as it is not established for exclusively charitable purposes, the promotion of a particular religious doctrine is not necessarily advancement of religion in the charitable sense and it is not possible to establish whether GNFI is established for the public benefit.

Good News for Israel ("GNFI") Decision

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Sacred Hands Spiritual Centre (“Sacred Hands”)

Review of a decision concerning an application for charitable status by a Spiritualist church. The Commissioners considered whether the form of spiritualism promoted by Sacred Hands met the criteria which charities with the purpose of the advancement of religion have to meet. Those criteria were set out in the Church of Scientology Decision, namely, a belief in a supreme being, worship of that being, advancement of the religion and public benefit.

The Commissioners further considered that the promotion of mediumship and clairvoyancy (on the evidence provided) was sufficiently incorporated within the religious practices and as such were acceptable charitable activities.

The Commissioners concluded that the form of spiritualism promoted by Sacred Hands satisfied the criteria and was established exclusively for the advancement of religion. It was therefore charitable.

Sacred Hands Spiritual Centre ("Sacred Hands") Decision

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