MercatorNet – Promoting the natural family is ‘not in the public benefit’

MercatorNet 6 September 2018
New Zealand’s foremost family advocacy group, Family First, faces losing its charitable status after a judgement from the High Court finding that its purposes and activities are not predominantly for the public good. Coming after a five year battle in the wake of the country’s legalisation of same-sex marriage, the judgement points to the quiet erosion of free speech rights in the new environment.

Family First intend to take their case to the Court of Appeal, but the odds against it are mounting.

According to Justice Simon France the organisation’s “core purpose of promoting the traditional family unit cannot be shown to be in the public benefit in the charitable sense” under the relevant law.

Family First, he says, is primarily engaged in advocacy for “a specific viewpoint” about “family,” (note his avoidance of the definite article). This, “to the extent it involves law change favouring the traditional family unit, would on its face run counter to human rights law which prohibits discrimination on such bases. Unless able to be shown to be a reasonable limit, the position advocated for would be unlawful, an obstacle to charitable status.”

Although a previous court decision about Greenpeace (NZ) allowed that advocacy, as such, is not a disqualification for charitable status, Justice France said such cases were “scarce, and seem increasingly limited to purposes of almost universal acceptance.” In other words, saving whales by challenging ships on the high seas is considered a good thing by most people, while the traditional family is not.

The Child Poverty Action Group is acceptable to the Charities Board, but a group that advocates the family “form” that prevents poverty (as the evidence shows) is not. Amnesty International New Zealand Inc is considered charitable although it advocates for abortion rights – that is, destroying family members; likewise the NZ Drug Foundation, which would have far less work to do at much less cost to the public if children were raised by their own, married mother and father.

These and other groups operate in a similar way to Family First, which supports their right to exist and be recognised as part of freedom of expression and open debate in a civil society. Yet only the family organisation is treated as a pariah.

Assumptions about ‘public benefit’

This is the second time that Family First has gone to court to fight deregistration by the Charities Board. The board first moved against the group in 2013 after the legalisation of same-sex marriage in New Zealand. Family First had campaigned against the law change, advancing arguments for the natural or traditional model of marriage and the family, just as other groups with charitable status had advocated for change.

The High Court at Wellington in 2015 accepted Family First’s submission that this type of advocacy made it “analogous to organisations that have advocated for the ‘mental and moral improvement’ of society…” in the past. Justice Collins directed the board to reconsider deregistration in this light, even though its members “may personally disagree with the views of Family First…” However, he left open the question of whether Family First’s purposes “are for the benefit of the public.”

Well, they are not, say the board and Justice France.

They were, back in 2007 when the organisation gained its charitable status, and for the next five years. Now, according to the court, advocating for the legal pre-eminence of the traditional family is probably against the country’s anti-discrimination law. As for its other purposes, such as reversal of laws legalising prostitution and banning smacking of children, along with opposition to abortion – these are even less likely to be in the public benefit. Furthermore, its many educational reports – packed with the findings of published studies – are merely, with one exception, “a series of publications promoting a cause.”
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