A recent social media post from the Atheist Foundation of Australia, was rightly critical of religious charities for their lack of transparency. Any organisation that solicits funds for charitable purposes from the general public, has ethical obligations in relation to financial transparency.
In fairness, this is an issue that the Atheist Foundation of Australia has returned to more than once. A previous article on your web site about “Religious Charity” covered this issue before, stating as follows:
“Financial transparency and paying a fair share of tax – we should expect more from Australia’s religious institutions and more from our country’s leaders.”Quote from the Atheist Foundation of Australia web site
Financial transparency is a key imperative for any organisation, and is especially so for a group like the Atheist Foundation of Australia that describes themselves as “rational and ethical beings”. This imperative is most salient when charitable funds are concerned. In this context, it is useful to measure your commitment to ethical financial transparency when it relates to an atheist charity that you are an Affiliate Member of, Andrew.
Atheist Alliance International is a charity registered in California, USA. As an Affiliate Member of this organisation, you were informed of their emergency meeting earlier this year to address very serious financial wrongdoing on their Board. In advance of this Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) the Board of Atheist Alliance International published a document that made a number of startling admissions, such that the following are now accepted facts:
- Atheist Alliance International had their charitable tax exemption revoked in 2016, and since then they have not accounted for the significant tax liability that they have been accruing.
- The Board has paid thousands of dollars to themselves from charitable funds across multiple years, and they failed to inform their members about this.
- During the same years when they were paying themselves thousands of dollars from charitable funds, the Board admitted that they failed to retain adequate financial records.
- After they failed to submit mandatory statutory financial returns over many years, the Secretary of State in California suspended Atheist Alliance International. The organisation has not been operating legally since 2021.
- Atheist Alliance International has not published annual accounts to their own members since 2021 either.
- Earlier this year, Atheist Alliance International published false financial statements about the payments the Board made to themselves, and they were then forced to resubmit new financial statements by the Attorney General of California.
The EGM earlier this year was arranged to discuss these and other scandals. In advance, the Board created an online mechanism for members to submit questions. However, during the meeting the Board argued that they should not have to answer any questions from members. In response, one Affiliate Member proposed a motion during the EGM that would have required the Board to answer the questions that had been submitted, and this motion was seconded by another Affiliate Member. The Atheist Foundation of Australia vote was cast at the meeting by Meredith Doig, who voted against that motion while stating as follows:
“I’d be voting against this motion … I’m very concerned that if we tie the Board up with requiring them to continue to answer more detailed questions, that is time and effort and frankly motivation that is not available to provide to the mission of the organisation which is helping atheists in need. So I think we need to keep those two things in balance, and to me it’s much more important that the Board focus on the mission of the organisation, which is outwards and forwards, rather than questions that are inwards and backwards.”A vote against financial transparency on behalf of the Atheist Foundation of Australia
The suggestion that there is no need for accountability in relation to financial wrongdoing that is observed by looking “backwards” into the past, represents the most puerile form of cover-up. The vote of the Atheist Foundation of Australia helped ensure that only financial wrongdoing reported by precogs who look “forwards”, needs to be investigated. So much for the “rational beings”. How about the “ethical beings”?
The vote of the Atheist Foundation of Australia helped avoid financial accountability with respect to anyone who might be involved with good works, such as “helping atheists in need”. This is a familiar argument that many people will have heard before. As Martin Boers recently described, religious charities very often argue against requirements for financial transparency because they are too busy with their good works to be distracted by obligations to be accountable.
Of course Andrew, it is not too late to do the right thing. You don’t have to be an utterly appalling hypocrite. As an Affiliate Member of the Atheist Alliance International charity, you could still demand that the Board must publish answers to the questions submitted to the recent EGM. That would be a good way to demonstrate that the commitment to financial transparency within the Atheist Foundation of Australia relates to both religious and atheist charities. Otherwise, the next time a religious charity seeks to avoid accountability, you and the Atheist Foundation of Australia should feel free to sit that one out, Andrew.