An op-ed in the LA Times calls for revocation of Scientology’s tax-exempt status. I agree 100% with the reasoning.
In the past, critics of the church have called for its tax exemption to be revoked because it is not a "real religion." I agree that tax-exemption isn’t merited, but not for that reason. The Church of Scientology has a distinct belief system which, despite its somewhat strange cosmology — mocked by the TV show "South Park" and many others — is not essentially more strange than, say, the idea of a virgin birth. Scientologists are entitled to believe what they want to believe. And the IRS website makes it clear that anyone is entitled to start a religion at any time without seeking IRS permission. To maintain the right to be tax-exempt, however, religions must fulfill certain requirements for charitable organizations. For example, they may not "serve the private interests of any individual" and/or "the organization’s purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy."
On these points alone, it is hard to see why Americans should subsidize Scientology through its tax-exemption.
Yes — you should not target the Church of Scientology because its beliefs are weird — that implies that the beliefs of other religions are not weird. But I do have to wonder why we’re giving organizations tax exemptions for their beliefs in the first place.
I do appreciate how clearly the grounds for revocation are laid out. I wonder how you determine whether a church is serving the private interests of an individual, though: is any church with a charismatic leader living an extravagant lifestyle vulnerable, then? Should Joel Osteen, to name one example among many, be denied a tax exemption?
I’m also wondering how faith-healing churches that end up killing people can retain their tax exemption in light of that last requirement, that they not violate public policy.
Of course these are tricky concerns that would keep many lawyers employed. I say we just simplify and get rid of religious tax exemptions for everyone.