Australian Christian satire website is ‘charity’, Commission rules

Damascus Dropbear may have done us all a favour

A Christian satire website has been given charity status by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) following a months-long legal stoush over whether the work of the charity could be considered to be ‘advancing the Christian faith’.

Damascus Dropbear, an Australian website which shares satirical articles on current events in society and Christianity, says that its purpose is to help readers “laugh, then think, about theology, culture, church and politics from a biblical worldview.”

The ACNC twice rejected the website’s application for charitable status,  arguing that its fundamental purpose was not the advancement of religion, as submitted in Damascus Dropbear’s initial application. The advancement of religion is one of twelve acceptable charitable purposes listed in the Charities Act.

It argued that since Damascus Dropbear’s work did not involve “the promotion of spiritual teaching, the maintenance of the doctrines upon which it rests, and the observances that serve to promote it,” it was not a “directly and immediately religious” organisation.

However, in an appeal lodged in November 2020, lawyers for the site held that the website did exist to ‘advance religion’ and that the Commission’s test of what the term meant was too narrowly applied.

Damascus Dropbear advanced religion by being pastoral and evangelistic in nature, they said. Though “references to scripture, Biblical and Christian doctrine and themes, and other aspects of Christian culture and tradition,” the site encouraged its Christian audiences to “consider how their lives may be realigned to be more consistent with their religion’s view of the good life and human flourishing,” the appeal noted.

In the appeal, seen by Eternity, lawyers argued that Damascus Dropbear’s use of satire aligned with an “increasingly common” use of the genre in modern communication, which meant “the Christian themes in their content encourage [non-Christian] readers to consider Christianity as a credible alternative” worldview.

The ACNC reviewed its rejection earlier this month, and the website is now listed as a registered charity. Organisations that are deemed to be charities by the ACNC are not required to pay income tax or GST.

Its style and political leaning is similar to American Christian satirical giant The Babylon Bee, and its slogan ‘Fake News for the Faithful’. Recent articles include ‘Retired Christian couple feel called to long-term mission in tropical Queensland,’ ‘Human Rights Commission release list of theologically safe churches,’ and ‘Marie Stopes to offer free iPads with every abortion.’

The website lists no public authors, and the registry has no Responsible People named.

The Commission’s decision may pave the way for more religiously-affiliated groups to apply for charity status, through the broadening of the test for ‘advancement of religion’.