Confusion over Scientology
Is it a religion? A cult? A business? Or something else?
By Christopher Caldwell
Published: January 18 2008 19:45 | Last updated: January 18 2008 19:45
Christopher Caldwell asks how the hybrid should be handled
Here's a fair use bit from this excellent article.
" How Scientology gets treated is important. Hybrid organisations – which look religious from one angle and secular from another – are not what our laws on freedom of religion anticipated. When a Muslim charity gives money to, say, Hamas, or when a Bible-belt church starts a business, the line between sacred and secular gets harder to draw.
Scientology’s doctrines are based on Hubbard’s writings and programmes, sales of which are a considerable source of income for the Church. Some of its scriptures are “confidential”. They reportedly involve extraterrestrials who lived 75m years ago and sent spirit clusters (called “thetans”) to earth. The basic practice is “auditing”, which has been compared to Catholic confession or to self-help “talking cures”, but which is directed by a church member. Its goal is to eliminate “engrams” – negative mental pictures that block human development. It should not be confused with psychiatry, to which the Church has a special hostility, and which Hubbard considered a form of terrorism.
Readers Digest, Time magazine and others have reported that the Church keeps records of its confessional “audits” in case a member should turn against it. Defectors from the group have claimed that they were subjected to psychological pressure and, in some cases, lost their life’s savings. Scientology is rich. It has a real estate empire in Clearwater, Florida and desirable properties in the major cities of the world, along with reported assets in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Scientology “devotes vast resources to squelching its critics”, Time magazine wrote in 1991 – and this was before Scientology sued Time Warner for $416m over the article in which that passage appeared. In 2001, the US Supreme Court, in refusing to revisit Scientology’s filed suit against Time Warner, cited a 1984 California Superior Court case that found: “The Church or its minions is fully capable of intimidation or other physical or psychological abuse if it suits their ends. The record is replete with evidence of such abuse.”
The Church repeatedly sued a US watchdog group called the Cult Awareness Network until it went bankrupt in the 1990s. And Mr Morton told the Toronto-based Globe and Mail this week that his biography of Mr Cruise had not been published in Britain “because the publishers, Pan-Macmillan, felt the costs of defending any action outweighed any kind of freedom of expression”. "[..]
Recently, the Editor of the St Petersburg Times in Clearwater, FL had similar concerns about scientology because of the city's history with the church. The editoria makes a public suggestion to Sen. Grassley in an editorial titled Opinion: A Church Accounting .
"Politicians should be careful when delving into religious matters, but Grassley has raised some legitimate issues about enforcement of tax laws. While religious institutions have constitutional protection against certain taxation, they are also expected not to abuse their special status. In fact, while Grassley is looking into such matters, he should add the Church of Scientology to the list.
Scientology's shameful past includes a 25-year legal and psychological campaign against the IRS to be recognized as a tax-exempt religion. Scientology tactics included a criminal conspiracy in the 1970s to bug IRS offices, which led to 11 convictions of church members including founder L. Ron Hubbard's wife. Scientology filed dozens of lawsuits against the IRS, hired private investigators to dig up dirt on IRS employees and financed other IRS critics.
In an unprecedented concession in 1993, the IRS dropped its long-held position that Scientology operations where commercial, and granted the organization tax-exempt status as a religion. Mysteriously, that decision came after then IRS Commissioner Fred T. Goldberg Jr. held an impromptu private meeting with top Scientologist David Miscavige. Goldberg and the IRS still refuse to discuss their decision or release details of the settlement even though there is no legal obligation for them to remain silent. Perhaps Grassley could shed some light on what happened in that private meeting.
While federal law gives great leeway to recognized religions to collect money without paying taxes, there are some clear limitations. A religion's income and assets cannot be used to benefit church insiders beyond their normal compensation, and must be used for charitable, educational or religious purposes rather than to enrich individuals"
That took courage and the article put the church on notice. So has Christopher Caldwell and Financial Times. This is a timely subject worthy of a complete review.