The Dutch branch of the Church of Scientology has lost its status as a “public welfare institution” and the tax breaks that go with it after a court in The Hague ruled it is a commercial organisation. According to the ruling, therapeutic courses offered by the church are commercially priced, with a clear aim of making a profit, rendering the organisation ineligible for inclusion on the tax authority’s list of charities.
Scientology teaches that 75 million years ago an evil galactic overlord named Xenu, who ruled over a society remarkably similar to our own, decided to tackle overpopulation by rounding up 13.5 trillion people, flying them to Earth, dropping them in volcanos all over the planet and vapourising them with atom bombs.
Their spirits, known as thetans, attach themselves to humans at birth and must be discarded through therapy sessions (known within Scientology as ‘auditing’) for humans to reach a “clear state”, bringing enlightenment and freedom.
Scientology adherents must work through eight stages of auditing over a period of many years to reach this clear state, each of which costs thousands of Euros to partake in. It was these costs that the court took issue with, ruling that they far outstrip average course fees for educational establishments, according to the NL Times.
The court noted: “If providers on the secular education market had similar prices, prospective students would experience it as prices for top education by top teachers in prime locations.” It also ruled that Scientology consciously seeks profit, and was able to build “substantial wealth” through its pricing structure.
The Church is able to appeal the ruling, although it is not yet clear whether it will. A spokesperson called the judge’s ruling “discrimination based on religious beliefs”.
The Church of Scientology has a long history of going to war with tax authorities in order to maximise profits. In 1993, a four decade long battle with the Internal Revenue Service in America was brought to an end when the government agreed to grant a tax exemption to the Church and more than 150 related corporations, bringing to a halt more than a dozen lawsuits overnight.
Marty Rathbun, president of a Scientology organization at the time told The New York Times “This puts an end to what has been an historic war. It’s like the Palestinians and the Israelis shaking hands.”
During the stand-off, eleven church leaders, including founder L Ron Hubbard’s wife Mary-Sue were jailed for wiretapping an IRA office and other related crimes.
However, that status is once again under scrutiny following the release in March this year of an HBO documentary about the church, titled Going Clear. Following the documentary’s first broadcast, the actress Mia Farrow urged her 640,000 Twitter followers to sign a White House petition calling on the government to revoke the church’s tax free status, tweeting: “#Scientology is a thuggish, dangerous, cruel cult. Sign petition to revoke their tax exempt status. #GoingClear”
Hubbard was reported to have amassed a personal wealth of $600 million, predominantly through Scientology, before he died in 1986.