The Jehovah’s Witnesses are in danger of losing their tax exempt status in Australia because they refuse to play their part in addressing allegations of child abuse.
Here’s the backstory: In 2013, the Australian government set up the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to look into the very serious issue. Rabbis were implicated alongside Catholic priests. Secular organizations weren’t immune from wrongdoing.
One of the recommendations from that Commission was the creation of the National Redress Scheme, a formal way to literally pay back victims of child sex abuse for all they had suffered. It’s not a perfect system by any means — could anything be? — but the idea behind it was that victims could fill out paperwork explaining what they went through, officials would calculate what that trauma is worth, and victims would receive a check. Among the many criticisms was that the NRS pushed a hierarchy of abuse; penetration was deemed more damaging than any other kind of abuse, for example. (That’s a discussion for another thread.)
In order to receive any payment, though, the guilty organizations had to agree to be part of the NRS system. Those that refused to join were always going to be named and shamed. Even more, the government said that groups that chose not to join would no longer be eligible for any kind of federal funding and could even lose their non-profit status.
Back in July, six organizations were announced as having not joined the program. (One of them quickly signed up after that announcement.) These were groups that were responsible for cases of child sex abuse… but because they refused to take part in the NRS, their victims’ applications could not be processed.
One of those groups was the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In 2016, the Royal Commission said the Witnesses did not adequately protect children from child sex abuse.
Why weren’t the Witnesses taking part in the NRS?
Jehovah’s Witnesses argued it did not have the “institutional settings” needed to be covered by the National Redress Scheme.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses understand that, to date, there have been less than 10 applicants to the redress scheme who have referred to the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” the organisation’s Tom Pecipajkovski told the ABC.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses have responded and will continue to respond directly to individual claims for redress in a caring, fair, and principled manner, taking into consideration the unique circumstances of each claim.
That was about as comforting as the Catholic Church saying they would handle all abuse cases internally. If you were trustworthy in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this mess.
Individual Catholic churches, by the way, joined the NRS. Even they knew this was preferable to dealing with a non-stop flurry of lawsuits.
But not the Witnesses. They believed they were above all this.
And now they may finally pay a price for it.
The government is now planning legislation that would make good on their threats to revoke the tax exempt status of those non-participating organizations. That includes the Witnesses.
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston issued a tweet this week explaining how the government would soon have “power to deregister a charity” that didn’t take “reasonable steps” to participate in the Redress Scheme.
Charities who choose to shirk their moral obligations and fail to join the National Redress Scheme will have their charitable status removed. This means they will no longer receive tax concessions while they force survivors to wait longer for the redress they so justly deserve. pic.twitter.com/9hxGAptpSq
— Anne Ruston (@Anne_Ruston) November 26, 2020
It’s not too late. But the window for the Witnesses to maintain their non-profit status — and give their victims some closure — is quickly closing. If the Witnesses don’t want to make amends, then the organization itself will struggle to exist in the country for much longer.
If that’s what happens, they can’t say they didn’t deserve it.
(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier. Thanks to Sacha for the link)