David Frum, at the Daily Beast wrote a short article about why he considers the IRS’s determination that the Church of Scientology is a church and is tax exempt is a wacky decision. His main objection? That the Church of Scientology is a money-making business that exists for the purpose of making profits.
In 1967, the IRS revoked the Church’s tax-exempt status, a decision reasserted by each and every American court to which the Church brought challenges over a subsequent 25-year-period. A 1984 U.S. Tax Court ruling, for instance, found that the Church “made a business out of selling religion” and that Hubbard and his family had diverted millions of dollars to their personal accounts. The Los Angeles Superior Court, meanwhile, deemed Hubbard “a pathological liar” driven by “egotism, greed, avarice, lust for power and vindictiveness and aggressiveness against persons perceived by him to be disloyal or hostile.”
Desperate for legitimacy, in 1973 Scientology launched Operation Snow White—a covert operation aimed at infiltrating governments. Scientology agents broke into IRS headquarters, bugged its offices, and dispatched private investigators to spy on individual agents—all in hopes of blackmailing officials. All this was permitted under Scientology’s “Fair Game”doctrine, which, according to Hubbard, demands that Church critics “be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. May be tricked, sued or lied to or destroyed.” The plot was uncovered in 1977, and Hubbard’s wife and 10 other Church officials were sentenced to jail. Hubbard was named an unindicted co-conspirator.
But in 1993, Scientology finally did achieve tax-exempt status from the IRS—a massive victory in the Church’s quest for mainstream acceptance. It did so, according to the New York Times, only “after an extraordinary campaign orchestrated by Scientology against the agency and people who work there” that included the hiring of “private investigators to dig into the private lives of I.R.S. officials and to conduct surveillance operations to uncover potential vulnerabilities.” Scientology even set up a front group, the National Coalition of IRS Whistle-blowers, to battle the agency. As if to emphasize the capriciousness of the IRS’s decision, just a year before the agency’s reversal, a decision by the U.S. Claims Court rejected Scientology’s case for tax-exemption, citing “the commercial character of much of Scientology,” its virtually incomprehensible financial procedures” and its “scripturally based hostility to taxation.”
What is the gist of Frum’s and Kirchick’s argument against the Church of Scientology’s tax exemption?
- The Church made a business out of selling religion
- The Hubbard family became fabulously wealthy from the Church
- Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology, was a pathological liar, driven by egotism, greed, avarice, lust for power and vindictiveness and aggressiveness against persons perceived by him to be disloyal or hostile.
- The Church used aggressive, violent and often illegal means to advance their tax exempt case with the U.S. government and to silence those who opposed them,
What Frum and Kirchick have described in their diatribe against the Church of Scientology could be said of most every religion, especially the Evangelical, Catholic and Mormon church in America. Why single out the Church of Scientology for doing in public what Joel Osteen, the Southern Baptists, Independent Fundamentalist Baptists, Rick Warren, Paul Crouch, and the Roman Catholic Church do in private?
Religion is big business. It is a business that serves its executives (pastors, elders, bishops, the Pope) and its customers (the membership) and allows all of them to financially profit from it. (from income and/or favorite tax treatment)
We have to look very hard to “find” the good that religion does in our society and when we subtract the hidden costs like religiously driven war and political ideology, it is fair to ask if the benefit of tax exemption for churches outweighs the cost.
The vast majority of church tax-free income goes to support its leaders and the members. The amount of money spent on serving the public good is quite minuscule. (even in Liberal and Progressive churches)
Religion is one of the most self-serving institutions ever devised by man. They escape scrutiny by passing themselves off as an institution that benefits the public. The truth is that if most churches closed their doors at 5 P.M. today it would have, outside of the church membership, little or no effect on the communities they are a part of.
This is why I think ALL religious institutions, and self-serving non-profits, should be stripped of their tax exemption. Let churches be treated as businesses. Require them to file a 941 every quarter and file every other form businesses are required to file. If they are incorporated, require them to play by the same rules that non-religious corporations play by.
If churches were treated this way it would end the constant battle over political speech. Churches would be free to endorse candidates and ballot issues. Churches would have the same rights, privileges, and obligations as every other business. They would become taxpayers instead of sponging off the American public.
Harsh words? Yes, and I mean every word. It is time to stop the sanctioning and supporting religion through the U.S. tax code. If we are unwilling to make any changes then people like Frum and Kirchick have no reason to object if the Church of Scientology is granted tax exempt status. One person’s cult is another person’s sincerely held-belief.
Government has no business deciding what is and isn’t a church. Unless we get the IRS out of the church business altogether, we must live with the fact that, for tax purposes, a church is a church because it says it is.
Scientology holds in common many of the beliefs of other religions and philosophies. It considers Man to be a spiritual being with more to him than flesh and blood. This, of course, is a very different view to that espoused by prevailing scientific thought which views Man as only a material object, a complex combination of chemical compounds and stimulus-response mechanisms.
Scientology believes Man to be basically good, not evil. It is Man’s experiences that have led him to commit evil deeds, not his nature. Often, he mistakenly seeks to solve his problems by considering only his own interests, which then causes trouble for both himself and others.
Scientology believes that Man advances to the degree that he preserves his spiritual integrity and values and remains honest and decent. Indeed, he deteriorates to the degree that he abandons these qualities.
But because Man is basically good, he is capable of spiritual betterment. And it is the goal of Scientology to bring him to a point where he is capable of sorting out the factors in his own life and solving his own problems.
Other efforts to help Man have tried to solve his problems for him and, in this respect, Scientology is different. Scientology believes that an individual placed in a position where he can increase his abilities, where he can confront life better, where he can identify the factors in his life more easily, is also in a position to solve his own problems and so, better his own life.
Sounds like a church to me.
At the very least churches should be required to file a 990 every year. They should be required to justify their continued tax exempt status. Let’s make them open their books so everyone can see what goes on in secret. After all, we the taxpayers are subsidizing most every denomination, church and pastor in America. (income tax exemption, housing allowance, Social Security tax exemption, sales tax exemption, real estate tax exemption, business tax exemption, providing fire, police, and emergency services, services church do not pay for)