Scientology scandal shows we should tax all religions
The Federal Government should immediately remove the Church of Scientology’s tax-exempt status. Why on Earth (or anywhere else in the Galactic Confederacy) should taxpayers be supporting the dream of a wacky science fiction author? Why, when governments are struggling to adequately fund emergency departments, should it be neglecting to collect a share of money from this pseudo-scientific behemoth?
This outrageous loophole for religions must be closed. For all religions. The Government should bite the bullet and take tax-free status away from the Catholics, the Christians, the Muslims, the Buddhists. It must start taxing religions.
South Australian senator Nick Xenophon and a bunch of brave ex-Scientologists have made some allegations of appalling behaviour by the Church of Scientology under the protective blanket of Parliamentary privilege.
Mr Xenophon said :
There are allegations of false imprisonment, coerced abortions, embezzlement of church funds, physical violence, intimidation, blackmail and the widespread and deliberate abuse of information obtained by the organisation. It is alleged that information about suspicious deaths and child abuse has been destroyed, and one follower has admitted he was coerced by the organisation into perjuring himself during investigations into the deaths of his two daughters.
This isn’t the first time such allegations have been made. These are matters for the police. That will in itself be an interesting process. But the allegations also prompted Mr Xenophon to call for Scientologists to begin paying tax.
Too bloody right.
Churches - all of them - can and should be distinguished from their charities. Churches do a lot of great work. So do secular non-profit organisations. If they are in the public interest, if they are helping the needy, if they meet standards of transparency and cost effectiveness, let them keep the tax-free status. But the religions themselves must start paying their way.
In response to Mr Xenophon’s comments in Parliament, the Scientologists defended themselves by comparing those who criticised them to bitter ex-spouses. Well, often ex-spouses have reason to be bitter. Again, a thorough police investigation is needed – although it will be difficult work if allegations of intimidation, violence and even murder stand in the way of witnesses coming forward, and if allegations of Scientologists shipping evidence off to the US are true.
The second defence the Scientologists brought to bear is that they are a “bona fide” religion, as if that is proof of innocence.
It’s almost the opposite, a cynic might say.
“The Church of Scientology internationally has grown from one Church in 1954 to more than 8000 Churches, Missions and groups in 165 countries today. The Church sponsors an international human rights education initiative as well as the world’s largest nongovernmental drug education program. Four new Churches have opened in 2009, most recently the Church of Scientology of Rome on October 24, with a new Church opening in Washington, DC, on October 31. In April, three new Churches were dedicated: in Malmo, Sweden; Dallas, Texas; and Nashville, Tennessee. The Scientology religion has expanded more in the past year than in the past five years combined and more in the past five years than in the past five decades combined.”
So they’re big. So what?
It’s a slippery exercise to distinguish a religion from a cult. Academics, governments and courts have been trying to do it for decades. Often they are defined based on their size. Which would mean that all spiritual movements start as cults, then arbitrarily become religions once they pass a pre-determined membership point. That seems superficial and also dangerous – wouldn’t a cult do anything to achieve “religious” status?
They used to argue that a cult was a cult if it was not a culture’s primary religion. That’s pretty hard to stand up in our postmodern, multicultural world.
History is also sometimes taken into account. If it’s been around long enough, it’s a religion. Again, spurious.
The ATO defines a religion as involving “belief in a supernatural being, thing or principle and acceptance of canons of conduct that give effect to that belief”. Vague to the point of uselessness.
Most religious movements are similar in structure. They have rituals, emotional and often financial investment, charismatic leaders, tenets. They have their own language. They posit life as a journey with a specific goal, which will only be attained if certain prerequisites are met. For some this may be the 10 commandments, for others it’s wearing purple Nikes, for others it’s being achieving higher states through being audited. Different keys to different heavens.
The debate is an interesting philosophical one, but when it comes to the legal issues, the taxation decisions, it’s clear we must treat them as though they are all the same. Take away the taxpayer support for the non-charity part of their operations. Redistribute the money through all charities, or through welfare. Australians are free to believe whatever they want, but the taxpayer has no obligation to prop up their faith.
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