Tax exemption in the United States is granted to organizations which meet the requirements for exemption under the Internal Revenue Service. According to the IRS, these are the requirements for tax exemption:
From the IRS Website:
To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.
Exempt purposes is explained elsewhere on the IRS Website:
The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals. The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.
As you can infer from these purposes listed, the overall idea here seems to be that those parts of society which government doesn’t reach into or doesn’t reach into enough, which are publicly beneficial need help from donations and shouldn’t be taxed. You may notice here that the overall idea does seem to be charity and doing good for humans in general.
Scientology was granted tax exempt status by the IRS in 1957 but later a branch of the church in California had its tax exemption status revoked in 1967. Scientology famously began an illegal campaign against the IRS dubbed “Snow White,” in which top Scientologists were breaking into IRS offices and stealing documents, bugging IRS offices and more.
In 1977 Snow White was stopped by the government and 11 top Scientologists including L. Ron Hubbard’s wife were sent to prison. The response from Scientology was to disassociate from those people and start a legal campaign, suing the IRS literally thousands of times from Scientology and Scientology’s front organizations until the IRS finally succumbed to the pressure and granted tax exemption for Scientology in 1993. I was at the announcement event which can be found online (I’m in the crowd somewhere).
Scientology is often described as a religion but I challenge that description as either meaningless or wrong. The lack of any system of worship may disqualify Scientology from being accurately described as a religion or religious. But let’s assume that Scientology is a religion and is exempt. Are our exemption qualifiers being met?
One thing about Scientology that I would argue makes them ineligible for tax exemption as a religion other than that they might not actually be considered a religion by definition, is that their beliefs and materials are not freely available, even to Scientologists. I would argue that it’s impossible to consider tax-exempt donations could be given with proper consent to an organization which does not freely disclose it’s core beliefs and tenants.
I am not aware of any organizations which hide their beliefs, lie about them and on top of that charge money for them, that I would consider a charitable organization.
What do you think about this?