The Humanist Society of New Zealand (Incorporated) [“HSNZ”] incorporated in 1967, was registered as a charity with the Charities Commission on 30 June 2008 (Charity No. CC36074).
Its 2010 and 2011 financial statements available on the Commission’s website, reveal that this lobby group – noted for its “perpetual advocacy” of humanism – received $24,895 in donations between 1 July 2009 and 30 June 2011, money solicited from the public to specifically fund its “NZ Atheist Bus Campaign”.
Only 56% ($13,948) of the donations received over this period were spent on the advertising campaign and no transparent explanation appears to be provided in the financial accounts as to how the remaining surplus ($10,947) was used.
Most of the surplus appears to have been absorbed in what has been labeled cutely, if not disingenuously, as an “investment loss” of $5,657 in 2010 and $716 in 2011 (total $6,373) – caused by the NZ bus company’s refusal to carry HSNZ pro-atheism ‘advertising’.
The bus company’s officials considered the HSNZ controversial advertising signs potentially offensive despite claims to the contrary by HSNZ that they were “friendly” and “innocuous”. NZ Bus officials took the view that the signs might negatively impact on their business and/or infringe advertising standards.
On 1 July 2010 the “NZ Atheist Bus Campaign” website (www.nogod.org.nz) announced that all donations received after that date would now be used for the transportation and installation of fixed billboards in cities around New Zealand. “Tax-refundable donations” were called for via the website and the “Givealittle Service” website “for more billboards with atheist slogans across all New Zealand.”
These billboards contained the same “innocuous” and “friendly” message intended initially for the exterior of buses, namely:
“There is probably no god, now stop worrying and enjoy yourself”.
The website addresses of HSNZ, the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists (www.nzarh.org.nz) [“NZARH”] and the “Atheist Bus” lobby group (www.nogod.org.nz) were all included on each billboard along with other “thought-provoking” ‘gems’ such as the ‘highly original’ one – “In the beginning man created God”. Was this ‘spiritual gem’ sourced from a book written by NZ atheist Sir Lloyd Geering. or a direct quote from atheist biologist Dr Richard Dawkins who publicly supported the campaign. No source was provided.
To see these billboards and a critique of the messages by a theist Dr Matthew Flannagan, go to:
The NZARH website states:
“NZ Atheist Bus Campaign was formed to put advertising messages on buses that promote the Rationalist/Humanist view of the world in a positive friendly way.”
The amount raised by HSNZ for the ‘sophisticated and scholarly’ promotion of atheism over the two years ($24,897) constituted 71.5% of the total HSNZ income ($34,814) received over that period. If the $6,373, categorised in the accounts falsely it seems as “investment loss”, is treated as an atheist bus advertising expenditure “write-off”, as it should be; then the total expenditure by HSNZ on the proselytizing for atheism amounts to $20,321. This constitutes 70.4% of the total HSNZ expenditure of $28,881 for the two-year period.
How can HSNZ possibly justify such expenditure using charity donations received from the general public, in terms of its charitable objectives? The first two are:
1. “To advance ethics, science, and education to benefit the community by promoting a humanistic approach to personal living and society in New Zealand.”
2. “To advance ethics, science, and education to benefit the community by facilitating fellowship, communication, and action in New Zealand.”
(Note: Humanists believe that morality is an intrinsic part of human nature based on understanding and a concern for others, needing no external sanctions. HSNZ has perpetually advocated this particular point of view on moral issues).
HSNZ appears to be unaware of the fact that the promotion of atheism is not a stated objective of humanism as embodied in the Amsterdam Declaration 2002 of the International Humanist and Ethical Union – and yet this Declaration forms the philosophical foundation of the HSNZ Constitution (see s. 2.2 and:”Appendix A”)
The Declaration specifically states that humanism: (1) eschews any belief that involves a reliance on “divine intervention” in solving “the world’s problems”, (2) rejects any “religious claim … based on revelations fixed for all time” and (3) opposes religions that “seek to impose their world-views on all of humanity”.
It does not oppose belief in or adherence to the philosophical notion of the existence of God or a Higher Being or the belief in the philosophical idea that the existence of such a Being can be inferred from the laws of nature or its other qualities (e.g. beauty, complexity, personhood, creature-based love and goodness etc.). Perhaps this is why the proposed “Atheist Bus” Campaign advertising was considered to be too bland, fatuous, puerile and inept by many atheists.
To the mind of a some, the message …”There is probably no god, now stop worrying and enjoy yourself” – was far from being just “innocuous” as HSNZ claimed. It had all the “innocuous” qualities and attractions of a sugar- coated poison pill.
Ironically, to the minds of many genuinely seeking “to advance ethics, science and education to benefit the community” and who are NOT “humanists”, and this would no doubt include the vast majority of Christians, the atheist bus message does seem to contain a kernel of truth worthy of thoughtful consideration. It is one contained in a message preached by the Apostle Paul to non-believers who refused to accept the Gospel Message he preached. To paraphrase it….
“If there is no God, then eat drink and be merry because this life is all there is”
He understood and declared that God’s existence and eternal power were self-evident truths made plain to all persons by God Himself through the evidence available in the natural world (Romans 1). He clearly believed and taught that these truths formed the foundation of all sound ethics and morality and that mere assertions to the contrary could not change the truth of the existence of a First Cause of all things.
With regard to the foundation of morals, the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) put it this way: “If there is no God everything is permitted”. This “everything: includes rape, promotion of paedophilia, exploitation of fellow human beings, slavery, child abuse, murder, bestiality, theft and all forms of moral debauchery.
The Humanist Society’s failed and misguided efforts in 2009-2011 to genuinely and effectively “advance ethics, science and education to benefit the community” via its Atheist Bus campaign, could be viewed as a squandering of $20,000 of charity donations. Its means of advancing all three matters, must according to its constitution, be carried out by means of “promoting a humanist approach to personal living and society in New Zealand.”
Most thinking New Zealanders would consider it absurd that members of a “humanist charity” could actually believe that the public exposure and propagation of the atheist bus sign messages in the public square constitutes a charitable activity and one that “advances ethics, science and education to benefit the community”. Why does the HSNZ not raise many more tens of thousands of dollars from the public to finance public hoardings stating the following, to fulfill their mission?
To the Global warming alarmists:
“There is probably a solution to reverse global warming, now stop worrying and enjoy yourself”.
To the environmental campaigners:
“There is probably a solution to the extinction of species, now stop worrying and enjoy yourself”.
To the NZ AIDS Foundation:
“There is probably a complete cure to HIV and AIDS, now stop worrying and spread the message: enjoy sex with as many partners as you wish, with or without a condom”.
But do such messages, arguably compatible with the broadly humanist, robust and rational scientific philosophy, of HSNZ, actually serve to “advance ethics, science and education to benefit the community”? An open-minded and rational-minded HSNZ member would surely have to answer “probably not”. And yet these messages are on a par with the puerile messages on their own pro-atheist billboards.
The evidence for God is arguably overwhelming as evidenced by the huge numbers of world-renowned scholars who are believers throughout the world today and others throughout the history of mankind. Leading philosopher and Christian apologist Dr William Lane-Craig, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, John Lennox and President of Kings College in New York City, Dr Dinesh D’Souza are three leading Christian apologists today who have recently put forward the numerous evidences for the existence God in major public debates against leading atheists.
On what basis does HSNZ make the claim that “there is probably no god”? None is provided. This is hardly an appeal to rational rigorous thought or to a scientific mind.
Like Greenpeace, HSNZ is an action based lobby group, which claims in its constitution that it aims:
“To take action in accordance with humanist charitable objectives to promote ethics, scientific rational thought, democracy and universal human rights, personal liberty combined with social responsibility, public benefit and the relief of poverty, environmental awareness and protection…”
In line with being a champion of all these laudable ideals, via action-packed charitable activities, HSNZ has extended its “political advocacy” (defined by the Charities Commission as “the perpetual advocacy of a particular point of view on moral issues, being that of the Society”, namely humanism) – to file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission Tribunal against the NZ Bus decision to refuse to carry its pro-atheism advertising.
Here is an example of a charity, critics might say, of a charity seeking to use an enforcement agency funded by the taxpayers of New Zealand – to achieve its real “political purposes”. Perhaps the ‘rational and scientific’ world-view of HSNZ members leads them to the following conclusions:
1. Faith-based religions are allowed to advertise their messages on buses.
2. Humanism is a faith-based religion, which ‘worships’ man rather than a ‘god’ and adheres to the equivalent of a religious creed – the ‘sacred’ Amsterdam Declaration 2002.
3. A bus company has denied HSNZ members their ‘rights’ to promote humanism/atheism.
4. HSNZ members have been discriminated against for their sincerely held religious beliefs.
5. HSNZ demands its members’ rights to promote their atheistic/humanist beliefs in the public square.
6. By taking this fight to the Human Rights Tribunal against this bus company’s blatant discrimination based on HSNZ’s religion of atheism, our members are fulfilling the HSNZ’s charitable purpose: the advancement of ethics, science and education to benefit the community. Amen.
Let us examine the account of their actions from their own media release which includes a noteworthy disclosure on where the “pot of money” (their words) obtained from atheist bus donations has actually gone. And it’s not located at the end of any illusory humanist-colour tinted rainbow.
Posting from www.nogod.org.nz dated 23 April 2011
The Legal Case for Discrimination
“An update on the campaign situation is now long overdue! This post is to update you all with where we’re at. Apologies that it has taken so long, but as you’ll hear, these things take their time.
“As followers of our campaign will know, in late 2009 we hit a roadblock when NZ Bus denied us the chance to put ads that questioned belief in god on the sides of their buses. To quickly recap these events, this is what happened…
“In December 2009 we were going through the process of organising bus advertising on NZ Bus buses through the agency that handles their advertising. Following initial informal agreement, and once we reached the stage of organising specific details of the campaign; we received unexpected news from NZ Bus via their ad agency. They basically said no, we wont run the ads.
“This decision appeared to us to be a case of discrimination under the Human Rights Act 1993. The act states clearly that businesses are unable to discriminate in the provision of services based on certain grounds of discrimination. One of the grounds of discrimination is “ethical belief, which means the lack of a religious belief, whether in respect of a particular religion or religions or all religions.”
“In response to NZ Bus’ decision we lodged a formal complaint with the Human Rights Commission (HRC). The first step in the formal process for complaints is for the HRC to try and resolve the issue with mediation between the two parties. However we didn’t get very far with this option with NZ Bus.
“The next step available to us in the complaints process was to take our case to the Human Rights Review Tribunal. This now becomes a more formal legal process in that the Tribunal is able to enforce the law to prohibit companies from discriminating. Of course, taking a case to the Tribunal requires legal representation, which as expected is a costly endeavour. There is yet another organisation, the Office of Human Rights Proceedings that provides legal representation and covers all associated costs involved with bringing a case to the Tribunal. They don’t just do this for anyone however – there is a process whereby they assess the worth of cases in terms of legal value and chance of success among other criteria.
“We are very pleased to report that the Office agreed to take on our case against NZ Bus. This is a huge win as without their support, it is unlikely we would have found the resources required to represent ourselves.
“Now, we must wait. Tribunal cases take a long time, and proceedings are not expected to begin until 2012 at the earliest.
“I wish to thank again everyone who donated initially for the bus ads and also for the later billboard campaign. Your support is very, very much appreciated! We still have a pot of money stowed away for a bus ad campaign if/when the ruling is returned in our favour.”
As noted above, the Humans Rights Review Tribunal is taxpayer funded. It should be apparent to the discerning reader that HSNZ, a charitable entity, is content to play the discrimination card in its quest for publicity and what it presumably classifies as its sacred quest for true justice. However the Tribunal can only adjudicate on matters that are brought by a complainant and that fit within the strict criteria set out under Human Rights Act 1993 (“the Act”).
A complainant who claims to hold a belief that there is not a god, or probably is not one, cannot be considered as holding to a religion in terms of the Act. A complaint based on a claimed act of “discrimination” under the Religion Head – can only be dealt with if the Tribunal is satisfied that the complainant can establish, based on the facts, that he/she was discriminated because of his/her adherence to and/or practice of a genuine religion. Humanism, as defined in the Amsterdam Declaration does not constitute a religion. Nor can it be considered a religion in terms of New Zealand’s Charities Act 2005 or its Tax laws. It does not possess a set of beliefs concerning the God its members worship and does not adhere to religious practices that involve public worship etc. Atheism is a sterile philosophical position held by some humanists and is not a religion. At best humanism could be arguably described as a quasi-religion.
If HSNZ, as a registered charity, truly believes that atheism is a religion and wishes to change the scope of its notified charitable activities to include the promotion of atheism, then it should do so by changing its constitution and seek the Charities Commission imprimatur classifying it as a charity that serves the public good by advancing religion under the Statute of Charitable Uses 1601 (Statute of Elizabeth). The likelihood of this happening is very close to zero.
It may be that HSNZ is advancing its case to the Human Rights Review Tribunal on the basis that its members have been discriminated against based on their “ethical beliefs” – recognised in the Human Rights Act 1993 to include non-belief in a God. If this is the basis of their case it will fail. The Amsterdam Declaration does not embody a belief in the non-existence of God or a god. It merely eschews belief in a particular kind of God and approach to religion. Furthermore, the HSNZ billboards stated, “there is probably no god.” This position fails to constitute a clearly defined ethical position. It is as absurd as a group of so-called rational persons claiming to be conscientious objectors based on their pacifist ethical beliefs, and then stating publicly:
“There are probably no good reasons for our country going to war, therefore we all refuse to do military service as required by law”.
However, HSNZ has gone further. Its members have gathered charity donations from the public to fund billboards in cities carrying a message equivalent to the following fatuous declaration, and at the same time claiming that they are advancing an ethical position they all hold to:
“There are probably no good reasons for our country going to war, therefore we all say you may as well refuse to do military service as required by law.”
Having been accepted as a registered charity on the basis of its advancement of education, HSNZ should, to maintain any integrity whatsoever, immediately sever all its ties with those who would choose to use it as a promoter of and vehicle for atheist propaganda and its advocacy. Alternatively, as noted, HSNZ should attempt to metamorphose into a charity devoted to the advancement of true religion and thereby declare its true agenda. The latter route, if taken, as warned would signal its inevitable metaphysical death.
1. Humanist Society of New Zealand Constitution
Section 2.00 General objects (excerpts quoted).
2.1 To advance ethics, science, and education to benefit the community by promotion of a humanist approach to personal living and society in New Zealand.
2.2 To advance ethics, science and education to benefit the community by facilitating humanist fellowship, communication, and action in New Zealand.
The seven points embodied in the Amsterdam Declaration 202 of the International Humanist and Ethical Union Appendix “A”, constitutes a typical description of humanism acceptable for the Constitution
2.3 To take action in accordance with humanist charitable objectives to promote ethics, scientific and rational thought, democracy and universal human rights, personal liberty combined with social responsibility; public benefit and the relief of poverty, environmental awareness and protection, provided that the Society shall have no allegiances to a political party nor support any political party’s policy as such or subsidies any political party.
2.4. To affiliate or otherwise associate with the Society, any institution, society, or other body of persons, whether incorporated or not, pursuing objects of a humanist or kindred character and to promote or assist in the establishment of any such institutions, societies or bodies.
2.5 To stimulate by discussion, lectures, broadcasts, publications, websites and other information … interest in the above objects, and to sponsor and conduct educational courses, studies, research, and conferences for these purposes.
2.6 To publish and distribute either gratis or otherwise books, pamphlets … designed to promote the above objects or any of them.
2.7 To subsidise any newspaper … primarily devoted to furthering the above objects.
2.8 To subscribe to, become a member or support any institution, society or other body of persons … having objects similar to those of the Society.
2. “Appendix A” from HSNZ Constitution: Amsterdam Declaration 2002 (Extracts)
Humanism is ethical. It affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others…. Humanists believe that morality is an intrinsic part of human nature based on understanding and a concern for others, needing no external sanctions.
Humanism is rational. Humanists believe that the solutions to the world’s problems lie in human thought and action rather than divine intervention.
Humanism is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. The world’s major religions claim to be based on revelations fixed for all time and many seek to impose their world-views on all of humanity.