Opinion: The Flying Spaghetti Monster speaks - time to review our religious charity laws

Luke Appleby
Source: 1News

In 2018, does it make sense that a person adhering to a satirical anti-religion could legally get tax breaks by registering as a charity?

Because under current New Zealand laws - they could do just that.

The church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whose adherants call themselves Pastafarians, made headlines again recently, with a Pakuranga College student unhappy he wasn't allowed to wear his religious headwear – a colander - for a school photo.

He eventually relented, but said he'll now file a religious discrimination complaint with the Human Rights Commission – and technically, I think they should rule in his favour.

Pastafarianism is, after all, a legally-recognised religion in New Zealand and the principal wouldn't have refused if that colander were a turban.

Luke Appleby became an Ordained Minister of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster for just US$25.

I myself am an official Ordained Minister of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, having paid US$25 for a certificate saying so a couple of years back.

It raises interesting questions about what it means to be religious, what religion is and how it should be treated under New Zealand law.

Those worshiping the great noodley god should technically enjoy all the benefits of any other religion – benefits, for example, including tax breaks if they register as a charity with the purpose of advancing their religion.

Many churches are granted charitable status because the law defines the advancement of religion as a "charitable purpose".

On the side, some also just happen to make many millions of dollars as part of their holy operations.

Serious concerns were voiced around this issue by former Revenue Minister Peter Dunne before his retirement last year, but with the chaos of the election and subsequent change of government, it's been drowned out.

It seemed to him that there are some religious entities using their religion as a money-making or at least a money-saving tool.

New Zealand's definition of charitable purpose is long overdue for review, especially in regards to religion.

The National government promised in 2010 that the definition would be reviewed, but charities minister of the time Jo Goodhew then decided against it two years later.

She argued there was too much financial risk due to the possibility of changing definitions allowing more tax benefits to more entities, and the "constrained fiscal environment" of the global financial crisis made things worse.

Well, that was six years ago, the crisis is over, and by all accounts New Zealand is doing quite well for itself.

In Australia, the Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission is required to review its legislation every five years, which is happening now, and there are calls for the commission to address a very similar issue on their side of the Tasman.

So I'm calling on Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector Peeni Henare, Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin and Green Party charities spokesperson Jan Logie to accept the challenge, now they have the power to do so.

It's by all accounts a complex topic, and I'm not saying I have any answers, but this is arguably the most overdue task on New Zealand's charity to-do list.