A group of atheists who tried to gain tax benefits by calling themselves a “church” lost in a Canadian court last week when three judges unanimously ruled that atheism is not a religion.
The Church of Atheism of Central Canada previously had been denied charitable tax status as a religion by Canada's Minister of National Revenue. The Church of Atheism then appealed, claiming a violation of their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – Canada’s version of the Bill of Rights.
A three-judge panel of the federal Court of Appeal ruled against the atheists and sided with the government.
“A review of the jurisprudence shows that fundamental characteristics of religion include that the followers have a faith in a higher power such as God, entity, or Supreme Being; that followers worship this higher power; and that the religion consists of a particular and comprehensive system of faith and worship,” Justice Marianne Rivoalen wrote in the decision.
Rivoalen acknowledged that not all religions worship a Supreme Being – Buddhism, for example – but said the Church of Atheism’s reliance on science fails the test in determining whether it is a religion. Further, she wrote, the group’s “Ten Commandments of Energy” are not a valid sacred text.
“Mainstream science is neither particularly specific nor precise,” Rivoalen wrote, agreeing with the Minister’s contention that the Church’s lack of an “authoritative book similar to the Bible” was a “further indication that the appellant does not have a comprehensive and particular system of faith and worship.”
The Church of Atheism’s activities “are for their members only and are not rehabilitative or therapeutic,” she wrote.
In conclusion, she wrote, it “was reasonable for the Minister to decide that the appellant could not be registered as a charitable organization because it lacked a charitable purpose, as defined by the common law, and did not carry out charitable activities in furtherance of that charitable purpose, as is required by the common law.”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Hermes Rivera/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.