“Jeopardizing Tax-Exempt Status
All IRC Section 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches and religious organizations, must abide by certain rules:
• their net earnings may not inure to any private shareholder or individual;
• they must not provide a substantial benefit to private interests;
• they must not devote a substantial part of their activities to attempting to influence legislation;
• they must not participate in, or intervene in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office; and
• the organization’s purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy.”
The Free Exercise Clause is the clause in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting Congress from making any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
In 1990 a case came before the Supreme Court of the United States, Employment Division, Oregon Department of Human Resources v. Smith. Ostensibly this case was about two members of the Native American Church being fired from their jobs as drug counselors after it was discovered that they were using peyote in the religious ceremonies of their church. However this case also dug into the Free Exercise Clause examining whether it required an exemption from government laws for religious purposes. Justice Scalia “wrote for the majority, the free exercise clause never “relieve[s] an individual of the obligation to comply with a `valid and neutral law of general applicability.’”
…[T]he right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a “valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes). To employ the compelling interest test for free exercise purposes, Justice Scalia said, would “court … anarchy,” permit every individual “to become a law unto himself,” and create “a private right to ignore generally applicable laws.”
—Congressional Research Service Report 98-65, The Law of Church and State: Developments in the Supreme Court Since 1980, David M. Ackerman, American Law Division. Updated August 15, 2002 (all quotes in this post are from this document unless otherwise noted.)
What the Court was saying in this case is simply that “in most circumstances, an individual possesses no constitutional right not to comply ‘with a valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).’”
As long as a law is not designed in such a way as to directly discriminate against a religion but is, instead neutral concerning religion and directed towards everyone, then even religious organizations must follow the law.
The First Amendment, with it’s Separation of Church and State, absolutely protects the rights of a Church’s religious beliefs.
The question surrounding Scientology’s religious tax exemption is not about its beliefs.
Rather, the question is about whether or not Scientology is abusing its government granted exemption by violating the legal strictures that form the boundaries of that exemption.
The Answer to that question is an unequivocal “YES”.
In order to keep their exemption, Scientology must follow and obey certain rules laid out by the IRS.
“they must not devote a substantial part of their activities to attempting to influence legislation”
The Scientology sub group CCHR is dedicated to the complete eradication of psychiatry and all mental health support.
Part of they way they are attempting this is their supporting and lobbying for certain legislations that coincide with the Scientology agenda.
From their website it states: “Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), a nonprofit charitable mental health watchdog organization established by the Church of Scientology in 1969, is dedicated to eradicating psychiatric abuses and ensuring patient protections. CCHR has supported enactment of more than 160 laws protecting individuals from abusive or coercive psychiatric practices, requiring informed consent for psychiatric treatment, ending enforced drugging and electroshocking of children and mandating severe penalties for sexual abuse of patients by psychiatrists and psychologists.”
Further, as recently as Saturday, May 11, 2019 Scientology supporters applaud the work of the CCHR on Twitter, saying “The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) Sacramento worked with California officials to secure legislation against systemic drugging in the state’s foster child network.”
The CCHR has non-profit status yet dedicates the majority of its time and resources to influence legislation in their favor.
Part of the Scientology belief system is that all psychiatry is evil and must be avoided at all costs.
One time Spokesperson for this sub-group, Scientologist John Alex Wood was adamant about the actual goal of the CCHR. It was not for the ending of abuse or coercive psychiatric practices, after all those are terms not defined except in light of Scientology doctrine. Rather, as Wood vehemently stated; “You claim CCHR has some sort of religious purpose. Wrong. CCHR’s overarching purpose is the total ANNIHILATION of psychiatry worldwide.”
To this day Scientology and The CCHR attack legitimate psychiatric diagnoses and therapies, instead relying on unregulated, unlicensed practices that have not been approved by the FDA.
Thus, by working to secure legislation that reflects the Scientology belief system, they are attempting to force both the government and society to bow to their beliefs. Given the current mental health crisis in this country, the eradication of psychiatry would be of utmost detriment to society.
In a 1986 case, Bowen v Roy, a family of Abenaki Indians contested the law that in order to receive Welfare Benefits for their children they were required to submit Social Security Numbers. The Abenaki Indians’ beliefs include that numbering a person is evil. The Court however “asserted that the claim amounted to an effort ‘to dictate the conduct of the Government’s internal procedures’ and a ‘demand that the Government join in the (Indians’) chosen religious practices ….’ The claimant’s ability to ‘believe, express, and exercise his religion,’ the Court held, was simply not impaired by the government’s administrative use of a Social Security number.”
The fact is that psychiatry, an absolute necessity for the good of society, does not impact or impair Scientology’s actual claimed beliefs. They can choose not to participate but for them to attempt to impose this ban on the rest of the world is an attempt to violate the First Amendment rights of everyone else who has the right NOT to adhere to Scientology doctrine.
This statement by the Court was further expounded upon later in 1988 with Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association. In this case California had plans to put in a new road on land that the local Indian tribes used for some of their religious rituals. The tribes cited the Free Exercise Clause in an attempt to stop the road being built on their sacred land.
“But the Court held that ‘even if we assume that … the … road will virtually destroy the Indians’ ability to practice their religion, the Constitution simply does not provide a principle that could justify upholding (their) legal claims.’ The Court said the critical question was whether the government’s action directly coerced individuals into violating their religious beliefs or imposed unique disabilities on religious activities, and it held that the road-building plan did not.”
Further “‘Whatever may be the exact line between unconstitutional prohibitions on the free exercise of religion and the legitimate conduct by government of its own affairs,’ the Court stated, ‘the location of the line cannot depend on measuring the effects of a governmental action on a religious objector’s spiritual development.’”
In other words, there comes a point where, in the exercise of one’s religious beliefs, a line cannot be crossed into the government’s jurisdiction and interfere with the operating of laws or policies.
By actively campaigning for harsher and harsher legislation against psychiatry Scientology is, in effect, attempting to force their beliefs upon society. As well, it is attempting to create an environment where they are manipulating government into showing this religion favor.
In 1947 Everson v. Board of Education, “Justice Black stated for the Court:
The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.”
Which also brings to mind the secretive, closed door meeting between the IRS and David Miscavige that led not only to the reversal of the prior denial of a Religious Tax Exemption, but to Scientology being the only entity permitted for its parishioners to deduct a portion of their payments for the education (auditing and training) of its members.
In the 1980s the Supreme Court ruled on seven cases concerning deliberate government efforts to protect individual and institutional religious practices.
“In its seven decisions the Court upheld government policies that prohibit employers from discriminating on religious grounds as well as policies that exempt religious employers from such prohibitions. But the Court also made clear that government cannot, in the guise of protecting religion, give religious practices an absolute preference over other individual and societal concerns; nor may it give particular religious groups special accommodations that may not be available to nonreligious groups in similar circumstances.”
In direct opposition of the prohibition on influencing legislation Scientology’s CCHR is actively working toward the weakening of psychiatry and stopping the field from making desperately needed advances. That the IRS continues to allow the exemption to stand in spite of this attack on such a serious and needed societal concern weakens the public trust where government is concerned. It gives the appearance of preference if not favoritism and it opens the door for Scientology to impose its belief system on those who neither share them nor wish to.