English communities secretary, Eric Pickles, has proposed that the government may want to withdraw tax breaks for the Church of Scientology — noting controversies over the Church’s activities and alluding to the general view in England that it is more of a cult than a religion.
Scientology is not treated as a religion in England but still receives financial benefits as a charity. In 1984, the organization was described as a cult by a high court judge.
Yet, the City of London Corporation has asked Scientology to pay only one-fifth of the tax rates for its London headquarters near St Paul’s cathedral.
Pickles questioned whether Scientology can be described as beneficial for society to justify the saving of millions in tax payments: “The Church of Scientology is not a registered charity, since the Charity Commission has ruled that it does not provide a public benefit. Nor are its premises a recognised place of worship.”
Indeed, in 1999, the Charity Commission ruled that the church did not pass the “public benefit” test required for advancing religion as a charitable purpose. He also cited the negative views of Scientology by a majority of English citizens.
I am not familiar with English law on the subject but such a basis for rescinding tax exemption would be rejected in the United States – particularly the unpopularity of the Church with the majority of citizens. Such a test would invite a dangerous level of subjectivity and majoritarian control in the denial of benefits.