Sandra Dunham and Leslie Rosenblood
Until the summer of 2018, charities in Canada were not permitted to carry out “political activity.” Since then, charities have been prevented from participating in partisan activities. However, religious charities in general — and religious schools in particular — have flouted these rules. It is not hard to understand why religious institutions enjoy so much political clout in Canada: nearly $50 billion in assets, as well as the willingness to use dogma, credits, and punishment to coerce a small army of children into cooperating.
For example, recently more than 30 former students from Christian Centre Academy (now called Legacy Christian Academy), one of the programs of the Mile Two Church charity, have reported that they were required to participate in political campaigns in “a quest to impose their social conservative views on others by any means necessary.” Students reported that they were required to carry signs, stuff envelopes, and participate in political rallies. One student explained, “Being close to political power at all levels was a central goal of the church and school leaders.”
As adults, these students express regret about their activities, such as participating in rallies opposing same-sex marriage, when they were too young to understand the issues.
At the time that these activities were being carried out, it was illegal for charities to participate in any political advocacy work. Today, it remains illegal for charities to participate in partisan activities. The Income Tax Act prohibits a charity from devoting any part of its resources to the direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party or candidate for public office.
This is not the first time that a religious school has been in the news for using their students to change public policy. In 2017, the Hamilton Catholic School Board came under fire for giving their students course credits for participating in anti-abortion activities. And in 2018 the Red Deer Catholic School Board paid for students to be bussed to an anti-abortion rally.
Since its founding, CFIC has advocated for the separation of church and state. When the church uses children to advance its political goals, and does so with public funds, secular governance becomes urgent. Churches in Canada are able to obtain charitable status for the purpose of “advancing religion” — which costs Canadian tax-payers $5,500,000,000 ($5.5 billion) annually.
In November of 2018, we raised concerns that while the removal of the advocacy rule offered organizations like CFIC new opportunities to advocate for the separation of church and state, it also offered religious charities — by far the wealthiest group of charities in Canada — the opportunity to advocate for laws that favour their organizations and position. CFIC will not offer you eternal salvation for making a charitable donation. However, we can promise you that we will use your generosity to advocate (legally!) for the separation of church and state. We invite you to help us level the playing field just a little by making a tax-deductible donation to your favourite secular charity.