Legal expert says Destiny Church unlikely to be deregistered as charity despite 12,000 people signing petition

A legal expert says Destiny Church is unlikely to be deregistered as a charity despite thousands of people signing a petition calling for its charitable status to be revoked. 

It comes amid controversy over Brian Tamaki's involvement in anti-lockdown protests. Tamaki's Freedoms and Rights Coalition is responsible for organising several anti-lockdown protests, while Tamaki himself is before the courts over two protests in Auckland last month.

The petition, which has 11,935 signatures at the time of writing, says Destiny Church is promoting "uncharitable views" which are putting New Zealanders at risk. 

"Destiny Church are promoting uncharitable views, ideas, false science and misinformation that are putting the unvaccinated people of New Zealand at risk. 

"Destiny Church are promoting ideas that contradict known science and contradictory to the general purpose of a Charity to be for the public benefit. Insomuch as Brian Tamaki is advocating public disobedience contradictory to NZ law. Destiny Church are inciting the NZ public to break the law.

"The conduct of the leaders of the Destiny Church breach the Preamble to the Statute of Charitable Uses 1601 in that they do not fit within the "spirit and intendment" of that document," the petition reads.

But director of Sue Barker Charities Law, Sue Barker, says while many people are upset by Tamaki's actions, it's not enough to have Destiny Church deregistered. 

"I fully understand that people are unhappy with the approach that Destiny Church is taking but as a matter of charity law, I don't see any breach of charities law. 

"The normal laws are taking their course - Brian Tamaki has been charged but for there to be an overlay of removal of tax exemptions or charitable status for the whole organisation, in my view that would be double jeopardy and I don't think the law would go that far."

Barker says Destiny Church has a charitable purpose that is legal so it's unlikely it will be deregistered. 

"To be registered as a charity you must have a charitable purpose. So the question is whether Destiny Church no longer has a charitable purpose or whether they now have some kind of illegal purpose or one that's not charitable and I don't think they have reached that level. 

"The advancement of religion is an accepted charitable purpose. I think what's happening is that the usual law is taking its course, and I think that's the better approach."

She said while many people are upset by Tamaki's actions, deregistering charities if they do something people don't agree with poses risks. 

"If we close charities down because they've done something that a lot of people are unhappy with, we just have to be careful what we wish for because charities are vulnerable. If we want to live in a democratic society we have to tolerate views we don't necessarily agree with.  

"I really worry that if we kind of make charities a limb of government or require them to move towards homogeneity - they've all got to have a view that everyone agrees with - I think our society would be much poorer because so many important societal changes have been achieved through the work of charities. 

"I'm talking about the abolition of slavery, universal suffrage and those views weren't popular at the time. I'm not saying I agree with what Brian is saying, but I am saying in principle we can't have a rule saying all charities need to toe the line or not say anything that might upset other people." 

Charities in New Zealand are overseen by the Charities Registration Board. According to its website, a charity can be removed from the Charities Register either by request or by the board. 

The board can deregister a charity if it no longer meets the requirements for registration, has acted in a way that is considered to be "serious wrongdoing" or has "significantly and persistently" failed to comply with the Charities Act 2005.

Charities which are deregistered are no longer eligible for charitable tax benefits.

The board said examples of reasons it may investigate a charity include:

  • losing significant amounts of money
  • involved in unlawful or corrupt use of charitable funds
  • directly or indirectly funding terrorism
  • causing serious harm to the people the charity helps or other people who come into contact with the charity through its work
  • set up for illegal or improper purposes, or to abuse tax laws
  • being used for significant personal profit or gain
  • involved in oppressive or discriminatory conduct
  • governed by a person who is disqualified from being an officer under the Charities Act
  • not reporting accurately and consistently with the requirements in the Charities Act
  • not entitled to be registered under the Charities Act.

But the Charities Registration Board says it doesn't investigate criminal or illegal activities of charities and instead refers those to the police.