Gay rights groups criticise National Lottery funding given to religious groups linked to online homophobia

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Gay rights organisations have called for National Lottery grants to be reviewed, after reports found that faith groups linked to online anti-gay literature had received the funding.

A range of religious groups, including Christian, Muslim and Jewish organisations have received funding in the past 20 years, usually to finance community projects, often with young or vulnerable people.

Now the Guardian reports that several religious groups in receipt of lottery funding can be linked to controversial material online.

One church, the Christ Apostolic church in Luton won a £10,000 grant from the lottery to set up an after school club to allow students to play music together, back in 2007.

The church, run by Stephen Oluwasola, insisted that the club was open to all students, however gay rights campaigners have raised concern, after a Sunday school lesson plan was published online, which carries a strong anti-gay message.

“Same-sex relationships are foreign to God’s Law,” the lesson plan reads. “Anyone who practises lesbianism, homosexuality, gay-marriage etc is a beast! Don’t do it!” It adds: “At the end of this lesson, the people of God should be showing deeper hatred for sexual sins.”

Oluwasola said the church was opposed to homosexuality, but said that the religious beliefs of the organisation were kept separate from community projects.

“All the members of Christ Apostolic church, we share the same belief … Our church doesn’t support the idea of homosexuality because our belief is that it is not biblical,” he said.

A spokesman for the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) defended the awards, speaking to the Guardian, saying that the amounts were small, and that some were made before controversial postings appeared online. He said that some of the churches are multinational, and that material was posted outside of the UK.

Campaigners have argued that the postings, no matter where they were posted, highlight what the churches believe.

Labour MP for Rhondda, Chris Bryant, condemned lottery distributors for supporting faith groups with extremist views.

He said: “I don’t object to religious charities being supported by the lottery, as many churches and religions do a great deal for society. But most people would be scandalised to hear that lottery money is being used by groups that peddle fundamentalist prejudice and bigotry.”

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said there should be an urgent review of the way the money is distributed.

He said: “No lottery money should be given, directly or indirectly, to organisations that promote prejudice and discriminatory values. In a free society, extremist churches are entitled to believe that homosexuality is wrong, but they should not receive money that comes from the public and is intended to support good causes. Anti-gay bigotry is not a good cause.

“The government and national lottery need to establish tighter controls on grants, to ensure that homophobic and other hate-mongering organisations do not get funding.”

Another church, the New Testament Church of God, in Wolverhampton, which received over £450,000 in the form of seven grants, has strong links to the Church of God in Tennessee.

The Tennessean church says it “condemns homosexuality as a fleshly behaviour and sinful practice”, and states its “opposition to the rising trend toward legitimising homosexual unions”.

The Guardian reports that, despite there being no suggestion that the church used the funding inappropriately, it has funds of almost £29 million, and receives more than £7 million of voluntary income per year.

Distributors of lottery money make distinctions between religious and community activities run by churches, saying: “The project outcomes are key, rather than the non-project activities and ethos of the organisation. Crucially, the activities undertaken with lottery money cannot promote religion or belief.”

The Lesbian and Gay Foundation, a campaign group, said: “It is very concerning if organisations have been able to access funding if they openly discriminate against LGB people. It is important that faith groups can continue to access funding to undertake vital work within their communities. However, it is equally important that when applying for lottery funding, such groups believe and abide by equality values.”

Admitting that not all grant applicants are subject to background checks, Mark McGann, a senior director at BIG said:  “We give out thousands of grants each year and it would not be cost-effective or proportionate to carry out in-depth background checks on every one of them. Everything we do is risk-based and proportionate – assessment can be fairly light-touch if it’s an Awards For All grant, which are small awards for community groups.”

He did say, however, that some of the homophobic material which had appeared online, had appearerd after the grants were awarded. He said: “There is a balance between equalities considerations and being able to reach different cultural and religious groups. We have to be culturally sensitive, albeit not to the point where we’re throwing our principles out of the window.”

BIG is responsible for distributing 40% of the lottery’s good cause funds. Over a fifteen year period, lottery distributors have awarded at least 139 grants to evangelical, Pentecostal and conservative Christian groups, worth over £3.1 million.