FB9. Our church is applying to the Canada Revenue Agency for status as a registered charity. We know that this means that our church’s purposes must be exclusively and legally charitable, and that it must be established for the benefit of the public or a sufficient segment of the public. However, the Board is not sure what exactly is meant by “public benefit”?
Your church will meet the first requirement for charitable status in that your primary purpose is the advancement of religion, which is one of the four core purposes recognized by the CRA. The second requirement, public benefit, is a bit more complicated. The CRA generally uses a two-part test:
- does the charity’s work confer a tangible, or an objectively measurable and socially useful benefit, directly or indirectly, and
- does that benefit have a public character, in that it is directed to the public or a sufficient part of the public.
Demonstrating the benefit associated with religious belief or activity is difficult. Historically, the public benefit of faith-based charities has usually been presumed. There have, however, been cases where the public benefit of groups that assert they are religious has been challenged. But, even in cases where public benefit is questioned, generally the broad mandate and practices of a group are examined, rather than individual tenets of faith. This allows for recognition of a range of belief systems, and not just a particular denomination.