Advancement of religion

This page explains how a charity advances religion in a charitable way, and provides some examples of wording used by charitable organisations to show how they fit within the 'advancement of religion' charitable purpose.

You should also read Charities Services information about Rules and the Charities Act 2005.

To be charitable under the advancement of religion category, your organisation's purpose must:

  • advance a set of beliefs that constitute a religion, and
  • aim to pass on the religious beliefs to others.

It’s generally assumed that an organisation which advances religion also provides a public benefit. However, this may not always be the case.

What is 'religion' in charities law?

The term 'religion' includes many different faiths and belief systems (for example, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism). Generally, however, to be religious there needs to be a body of doctrines that:

  • concern the place of humankind in the universe and its relationship with the infinite,
  • go beyond that which can be perceived by the senses or ascertained through the scientific method, and
  • contain canons of conduct around which adherents structure their lives.

The doctrines and canons of conduct must also be sufficiently structured, clear and serious so as to be capable of advancing religion.

For example:

  • An organisation promoting belief in unicorns does not contain canons of conduct on which adherents are to structure their lives, nor is it concerned with the place of humankind in the universe or its relationship with the infinite.  It would not qualify.
  • An organisation that promotes a belief system with the purpose of parodying an established religion would not be sufficiently serious to advance religion.
  • An organisation that promotes a set of beliefs about how people may behave may be concerned with the place of humankind in the universe and contain canons of conduct, but not concern anything supernatural. However, this organisation may qualify as 'another matter beneficial to the community' if it 'promotes the moral or spiritual improvement of the community.'

How do you 'advance religion' in charities law?

To 'advance' religion, a faith must be passed on to others by spreading its message and taking positive steps to sustain and increase the religious belief. An activity that is simply connected to religious activity will not be sufficient.

For example, a court found a newspaper connected to a church did not in and of itself advance religion.

Public benefit and religion

Where an organisation advances religion in a charitable manner, it is assumed that it provides a public benefit. However, if the organisation promotes conduct that is inconsistent with prevailing public policy, or it is focussed too narrowly on its adherents, that presumption may be rebutted.

For example, previous courts’ decisions have said:

  • Religion is not advanced by an entirely enclosed religious order, where the activities consist only of private prayer.
  • Offering public prayers for the soul of a deceased person advances a sufficient public benefit.
  • Religions which encourage dangerous risk-taking behaviour may rebut the presumption of public benefit.

Examples of wording

Here are some examples of wording used by charitable organisations to show how they fit with the 'advancement of religion' charitable purpose:

  • To advance [faith or religion] in a charitable manner.
  • To advance and teach the religious tenets, doctrines, observances and culture associated with the [faith or religion].
  • To preach and advance the teachings of the [faith or religion] faith, and the religious tenets, doctrines, observances and culture associated with that faith.
  • To establish, maintain and support a house of worship with services conducted in accordance with the tenets and doctrines of the [faith or religion] faith.
  • To support and maintain missions and missionaries in order to propagate the [faith or religion] faith.
  • To establish and maintain a religious school of instruction for children, young people and adults.
  • To establish and maintain a religious day school.
  • To produce and distribute religious materials.
  • To advance the [faith or religion] faith by providing spiritual and educational resources to pastors nationally and internationally.
  • To advance and teach the religious tenets, doctrines, observances and culture associated with the [faith or religion] faith by establishing a facility to be used for religious programmes, workshops, music and bible studies.

PLEASE NOTE: This is not an exhaustive list, and if you plan to use different wording, you may wish to ask us before finalising your rules document - info@charities.govt.nz.

Where can I find more information about the advancement of religion?

You can read a book about Charity Law in New Zealand if you want to know more about the advancement of religion as a charitable purpose. It contains detailed information about each charitable purpose, including references to relevant case law. Charity Law in New Zealand is available to download on the Charities Services website.

You can also read Decisions explaining why particular applicants have been declined registration. Reading the decisions can help you understand how your purposes must be charitable and provide for the public benefit. The following legal decisions are particularly useful for understanding the advancement of religion: