From: Darth Simian on
The Freemasons are in court battling to maintain tax exemptions,
arguing that their activities, however secret, are primarily

While the society's Grand Lodge has held a tax-exempt status for more
than a century under non-binding decisions made by the Inland Revenue
Department, the Charities Commission turned down its application to be
registered as a charity.

Since July 1, 2008, organisations have had to be registered as
charities in order to gain tax exempt status.

The commission, set up to promote confidence in the charitable sector,
has rejected applications from several high-profile organisations,
including Greenpeace and the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

The commission conceded that some of the activities of the Freemasons
organisation, through its senior authority the Grand Lodge, were
charitable, but that its main purpose was to benefit its own limited
membership. Members of the Grand Lodge must have reached the rank of
Master Mason, be male, at least 21 years old and be nominated by other
members of the lodge.

Peter MacKenzie QC, acting on behalf of the trustees of the Grand
Lodge, told the High Court at Wellington that the Grand Lodge
administered a benevolent fund, expressly for charitable activities.

A separate property development fund, which lends money for the
formation of lodges at a local level, also dedicated some of its funds
to charity, including the funding of scholarships.

Mr MacKenzie argued that other activities carried out by the lodge,
which include a quarterly magazine with a circulation of 17,000,
encouraged Freemasons to act charitably, so should be regarded as

Acting for the Crown, Tania Warburton said that some of the activities
of the Grand Lodge were charitable, but that its main purpose was to
promote Freemasonry in New Zealand, and that much of the movement's
beliefs and practices were kept "substantially confidential".

"The Grand Lodge does not exist for the benefit of the public," Ms
Warburton said in her submission.

"A substantial part of the Grand Lodge's purposes advance or benefit
its members," and accordingly should not be given charitable tax
exemption for non-charitable activities.

Justice Simon France is expected to release his decision in several

Some charities have already decided to hive off income dedicated to
charitable activities into a separate trust to gain tax-exempt status
for at least these activities.

Laurence Milton, the grand secretary of Freemasons New Zealand, said
this was a "fall-back position" for the organisation to take.
It is in this final "Blue Lodge" degree that that candidate is laid
out "in death" and is raised from the dead by the "Worshipful Master"
of the Lodge (representing King Solomon), using the "strong grip" (or
"Lion's Paw") of the Master Mason.