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Faith, hope and... the Church of Scientology

"Sci-fi" religion tries to convice commissioners and the Revenue that it is a charity, not a cult

The Observer, 12 January 1997

[Byline:] Charities, Martin Wroe

The Charity Commission is scratching its head and taking theological
advice. The Church of Scientology has submitted an application for
registration as a charity. The church, founded by the late sci-fi writer
L. Ron Hubbard, has a major problem: large numbers of people regard it as
a weird religious cult that brainwashes converts. But its main obstacle is
metaphysical - proving that it believes in a god.
	There are 182,000 charities registered in Britain. 22,000 of them
'religious' - from organ funds to church building projects and religious
relief agencies. In last year's list of the top 500 charities, funds
raised by religious bodies accounted for more than 12 percent of the
total, surpassed only by funds raised for cancer charities.
	But this figure grows dramatically if you include the tens of
thousands of churches and other religious groups that do not need to seek
registration by the commission because they are recognised as 'charitable'
bodies where it really matters -at the Inland Revenue. When last measured
in 1993, Church collections accounted for 8 per cent of all donations to
charity. In fact, the oldest form of tax-effective charitable giving, the
deed of covenant, is rooted in tithing and nearly half of all deeds of
covenant are in favour of churches.
	The Church of Scientology wants official registration because, as
a controversial and relatively new religious grouping -even though it
claims 100,000 British members and 8 million worldwide -it is not seen as
a charity by the tax man.
	The law lays down four criteria as acceptable objects of a charity
-relief of poverty, improving education, generally benefitting the
community or furthering religion. While it draws no distinction between
one religion and another and, in general, presumes that religion is for
the public benefit, it does state that a religion 'must be founded on a
belief and reverence for a god or gods'. It must also 'promote spiritual
teaching and the doctrines of these beliefs' as well as religious rites
and observance.
	But the law makes clear that 'advancement of religion' is not
always charitable -for example, where the benefit of an organisation is
entirely private, where a religion benefits only its members or its
beliefs 'undermine accepted foundations of religion and morality.'
	The problem for the Scientologists is that they believe in
reincarnation but not in a god. they have had prolonged private
discussions with the Charity Commissioners before formally submitting
their application. If the commissioners agree to accept their 'god', then
they will need to determine that the benefits of charitable status would
not merely be for members and will not undermine existing religion. This
is a hard call to make by any standards.

[picture of Hubbard in sailor's cap. Caption: God-like status?: L Ron Hubbard]

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