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Church “con trick” to raise money from businesses

The British Humanist Association has challenged the Rector of St Giles in the Fields, London, to justify the deceptive way in which he is trying to raise money from local businesses – and from the BHA itself! It is suspected that similar methods are widely used across the country. The Rector, William Jacob, has sent local non-domestic ratepayers a ‘rate demand’ that quotes their local authority rating reference numbers and rateable values. It is headed ‘Formal Notice of Church Rate Due’, states ‘ ’ in bold type, and says in a sub-heading it is ‘Payable by 30th September 2007’. It is legalistically worded with references to legislation and attaches a remittance form. Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the BHA, said: “The ‘demand’ is dressed up to maximise the chances that it will be treated as just another invoice by busy staff in accounts offices. Only a close reading reveals that payment is voluntary.” She accused the Church of using Victorian legislation to con money out of companies. “The demand is quite legal – but also quite immoral. It has its roots in the compulsory church rates that everyone – whatever their beliefs – was once forced to pay to their parish church. When these were abolished in 1868, the legislation took the form of making church rate demands unenforceable in any court. But the Church of England carried on issuing demands, merely adding the word ‘voluntary’. “The Rector of St Giles has gone further, deliberately setting out to undermine the meaning of ‘voluntary’. His demand says: ‘the word “voluntary” is used to protect conscientious objectors from proceedings to enforce payment, but this does not affect the legality of the demand’. That suggests that anyone whose objections are for reasons other than ‘conscience’ is liable to enforcement proceedings – but the 1868 Act made such proceedings impossible! “If the Church wants to raise money, let it issue honest, straightforward appeals like everyone else – not trade on relics from the days of religious intolerance to con businesses into paying up. These demands may be legal, but they still amount to a confidence trick.”

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