Scientology Tax Exemption — Muffins Strikes Back (February 5, 2018)

Posted by Mike Rinder1
February 5, 2018

Clearly, David Miscavige is feeling the mounting pressure on his most cherished treasure: tax exempt status bestowed on scientology by the IRS in 1993.

It takes considerable effort to get a letter published about a relatively obscure subject in a major paper like the LA Times. It is apparently a response to an op-ed piece that ran last November. 3 months of work to get this miserable piece of misleading propaganda to run…

Monique “Muffins” Yingling makes a rare appearance to argue on behalf of Miscavige.  She has been as out of sight as the COB himself since her fateful appearance on 20/20 bearing a basket of slave labor baked muffins while appearing to be trying to send morse code “Help Me” messages with her constant blinking. For some years she was the most prominent spokesperson for scientology, after Miscavige got rid of any actual scientologist to speak on behalf of his organization (can you imagine a non-Catholic being the public spokesperson for the Catholic church?). She was the only one he trusted other than himself, and he has made clear it is beneath him to trifle with the lowlife “Chaos Merchants.” So he sent his non-scientologist consigliere instead to defend the faith and practices of scientology — of which she has no personal experience.

But now, like all other scientology “spokes”people, she makes no public appearances but delivers exclusively written missives. No more “blinky.” No more off-the-cuff boo-boos.

To be fair, she WAS intimately involved in the ultimately successful effort to get the IRS to reverse itself and the Supreme Court and grant religious tax exempt status to scientology. So at least she knows something about the subject (as opposed to her claiming disconnection is a “personal choice” and “Fair Game was canceled.”) Then again, I was also intimately involved. Though scientology likes to pretend I held no senior positions and know nothing, I attended numerous meetings at the IRS during the exemption process and I oversaw the collection and preparation of all the documents presented to the IRS. So, I have a few opinions I would like to express in response to Muffins.

Here is her op-ed in its entirety:

In a Nov. 16 Los Angeles Times op-ed article, Daily Beast correspondent James Kirchick asks, “In the world of religious tax exemptions, does Scientology measure up?” The answer to that question is a resounding yes.

I was the Church of Scientology’s primary tax counsel in its successful efforts to obtain federal tax exemption, a status it fully and fairly earned and continues to merit. Unlike Kirchick, I know exactly whereof I speak.

The Church of Scientology is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as tax exempt because it established to the agency’s satisfaction that it is organized and operates as a charitable religious organization. The church did not engage in a “ruthless battle to win a religious tax exemption”; rather, it simply worked continuously to demonstrate that it should be treated the same as other religious denominations.

The examination process resulting in exemption in 1993 was fully documented through an extensive administrative record that was then and is still available for the public to review; at 14 feet tall if the papers are stacked, the IRS’ record on the church is the largest in the history of exempt organizations. The IRS determined that the church’s operations fully qualified as tax exempt then, and its operations continue to warrant that determination today.

Scientology’s acceptance as a world religion has come quickly by historical measures.

Kirchick’s claim that “America’s recognition of Scientology as a religion stands as an anomaly in the Western world” is not true. There are judicial decisions from the highest courts in Australia, the United Kingdom and Italy, in addition to numerous decisions from lower courts in dozens of other countries, including Spain, France and Germany, all holding that Scientology is a religion. Indeed, many of these decisions have provided the modern definition of religion in their respective jurisdictions.

The Australian High Court’s unanimous decision in 1983 stands as the leading precedent throughout the British Commonwealth for the definition of religion and charity status. In another unanimous decision, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court in 2013 not only recognized Scientology as a religion but also replaced that country’s Victorian-era definition of religion with a modern one that fully embraces Scientology. In 1997, the Supreme Court of Italy not only recognized the religiosity of Scientology, but also found the church’s fundraising practices to be fairer than those of the Roman Catholic Church. Scientology has been recognized as a religion by courts and governments across the globe, including most recently in Colombia last May and Mexico in November.

Kirchick did get one thing right in observing that Mormonism “was long considered a cult (its adherents the targets of episodic violence) but is now increasingly accepted by mainstream society as just another branch of Christianity.” This experience, however, is not unique to Mormons: History shows that virtually every new religious faith has been defamed, persecuted and suppressed by the society from which it emerged.

Before Constantine, the Roman Empire considered Christianity an obscure Jewish sect and a dangerous one at that. Genuine religions weather these storms and emerge even stronger because their adherents find sufficient value in the religious teachings to endure the attacks of religious bigots and the prejudice and discrimination they produce. This has proven true of Christianity and Mormonism and is continuing to prove true of Scientology.

Indeed, Scientology’s acceptance as a world religion has come quickly by historical measures. The church increasingly enjoys cooperative relations with numerous governments worldwide as well as with like-minded religious, social and humanitarian institutions in the communities it serves. Lost in a tabloid obsessed, click-bait culture is the real story of Scientology.

Monique Yingling is the Church of Scientology’s tax counsel.

Now, let’s consider a few of her statements and some of the glaring omissions.

The unaddressed elephant in the room and the big thing missing from the IRS review: no mention of the enormous amount of money spent by scientology to spy on and try to destroy whistleblowers and critics.

The money is disguised and difficult to trace because it is paid through law firms and scientology spends a LOT of money on lawyers. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars a month. This is NOT a valid use of tax exempt funds (if it was just an isolated and occasional incident that is part of a lawsuit it might be acceptable but not a repeating, consistent pattern). It IS enough for the exempt status of scientology to be terminated.

The IRS did ask in general terms about scientology’s violations of “public policy” and the allegations of abusing critics — it was all sloughed off as “that was just the renegade activities of the Guardian’s Office which we disbanded.” There was no mention of the fact that the policy written by Hubbard has not changed and remains in force and followed today. The IRS did not review the policy. They did not delve into the activities or how much money was thrown at PI’s and covert operations.

Second thing the IRS did NOT know is how scientology is accumulating empty buildings. The basic concept of tax exemption is that the money you bring in is spent on things which benefit society. You cannot start up a tax exempt entity and simply accumulate billions of dollars. One valid expense is providing facilities for the membership and the community at large. Normally a religious organization (or any organization for that matter), acquires or builds facilities that it needs. The IRS doesn’t contemplate that if an organization is opening facilities “to serve its congregation” that these are not needed and that the tax exempt entity has simply converted itself into a real estate holding company.

In fact, the accumulation of empty buildings, if they are NOT used, is really no different than accumulating money in a bank account.

Scientology would prefer to buy buildings than spend money on normal “charitable” activities because they money STAYS on their balance sheet. The IRS is blind to this scam — there is an inherent fear within government agencies of being accused of intrusion into religious affairs in violation of the First Amendment. So they tend to ignore this.

But let’s look a bit broader. The entire basis of Muffins piece is this: Where bad arguments against scientology’s tax exemption go to die: courts of law

Yet nobody has challenged scientology’s exemption in a US Court. The US SUPREME court determined that payments to scientology should NOT be tax deductible because they are a quid pro quo transaction and not a donation (See Hernandez v. Commissioner). With this as the law of the land it would be interesting to see how a court would rule on a challenge to the IRS determination that such donations ARE deductible and scientology entities are tax exempt. I suspect the bad arguments of scientology would go to die in a US court, just as they did in the Hernandez case.

Ms. Yingling conflates two things that she KNOWS are not the same. Determination that scientology is or is not a religion is NOT the same as a determination whether it qualifies for tax exempt status under the religious exemption contained in the Internal Revenue Code. Muffins proclaims “it should be treated the same as other religious denominations” — not so fast Muffy. You can be a religion and NOT qualify for tax exempt status. All religions are NOT the same. Your religion might well be recognized by scholars, but if your activities are violating public policy (for example, ingesting cocaine as a religious sacrament while claiming God is manifested in the leaf of the coca plant) then you are NOT entitled to tax exempt status. Let’s not forget, Scientology is NOT like other religions — they don’t have written policies to destroy critics, harass them with PI’s and operate a dirty tricks department.

The examination process resulting in exemption in 1993 was fully documented through an extensive administrative record that was then and is still available for the public to review; and you will find no mention of how much money is spent on harassing/intimidating/threatening whistleblowers or critics. Nor copies of the Hubbard writings about this. Nor information on how much money is spent annually on these activities. The “largest record in the history of the IRS” is missing some extremely important information. Scientology overwhelmed the IRS with information — they lost sight of important factors in the deluge of paper.

The IRS determined that the church’s operations fully qualified as tax exempt then, and its operations continue to warrant that determination today. How about the lies that were told the IRS in the course of the proceedings? Even beyond the omissions. Like this one:

It has been a long-standing policy of the Church that if someone is dissatisfied with their Scientology services and asks to have their contributions returned within a three month period, these amounts will be returned. Likewise, if the person asks for return of contributions for which no services were received (i.e. an advance payment), there is no three month limitation period. Anyone newly enrolling in services at a Church of Scientology is informed of the policies and signs an agreement to abide by them. As a further condition of receiving a refund or repayment, the person understands that they may not again receive services from the Church.

Within the Church, there are two separate terms: A “refund” refers to a return of contributions to a parishioner within 90 days of participating in religious services while a “repayment” refers to a return of a parishioner’s advance payment before he or she has participated in religious services. For simplicity, the following discussion will use the term “refund” to describe both types of transactions, because both involve a return of parishioner contributions.

The Church’s refund policy is exceedingly fair. If someone isn’t happy with Scientology — which is a very small minority of people — he simply has to make a proper request for his donations back, agree to forego further services and his donations will be returned. For the Church, in addition to the fact that this policy aligns with Scientology principles of exchange, it also serves the purpose of allowing our churches and the parishioners who are very happy with Scientology, to carry on without the unhappy few in their midst.

Clearly, this is NOT what scientology actually does. There are plenty of other things the IRS was NOT aware of and didn’t ask about like the relationship of the IAS to participation in scientology. Another key issue the IRS was hoodwinked about.

There are judicial decisions from the highest courts in Australia, the United Kingdom and Italy, in addition to numerous decisions from lower courts in dozens of other countries, including Spain, France and Germany, all holding that Scientology is a religion. Indeed, many of these decisions have provided the modern definition of religion in their respective jurisdictions. Here she goes again, conflating two things that are NOT the same, pretending they are (and of course NOT mentioning the highest court in the United States).

Scientology is specifically NOT exempt from taxation in the UK and other countries, even though for other purposes it may be recognized as a religion. Why? Because tax exempt status does not automatically flow from religious status. In fact, there is a public benefit test to qualify for tax exemption conducted by the “Charity Commission” in the UK. If you cannot demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Charity Commission that your religious organization benefits society beyond whatever claimed benefit it provides its members, you are not exempt. This is the fundamental theory of tax exemption. Governments do not tax activities that are providing a public benefit because were they NOT being provided by that entity, the government would have to provide those services. Such a test is not part of the law in the US — though it should be. The principle is similar and some of the rules are similar in the US — as in you cannot be engaged in activities that are in violation of “public policy” and you cannot accumulate too much money instead of using it for the public good — there is no public benefit test.

The Australian High Court’s unanimous decision in 1983 stands as the leading precedent throughout the British Commonwealth for the definition of religion and charity status. More of the straw man argument. This decision does NOT bestow tax exempt (charitable) status on scientology organizations in the vast majority of the British Commonwealth, including the seat of the Commonwealth in the United Kingdom.

Genuine religions weather these storms and emerge even stronger because their adherents find sufficient value in the religious teachings to endure the attacks of religious bigots and the prejudice and discrimination they produce. This has proven true of Christianity and Mormonism and is continuing to prove true of Scientology. Well, no it is not. Scientology is smaller today than it was 10 years ago, and 10 years ago it was smaller than it was 20 years ago. Scientology has been shrinking since the 1980’s. It is not emerging stronger. It is fading away. While accumulating more and more money.

The church increasingly enjoys cooperative relations with numerous governments worldwide as well as with like-minded religious, social and humanitarian institutions in the communities it serves. And once again, this has NOTHING to do with whether it should or should not have tax exempt status. As an aside, it also not true.

For 25 years, scientology has rested its legitimacy (and a lot of its income) on its tax exempts status. Clearly, this is a huge vulnerability — lose it and the pretense of being legitimate dies. And it will happen — eventually scientology’s Fair Game chickens are coming home to roost. Miscavige knows his house of cards is built on quicksand and it’s toppling and he is desperate to avoid this at all costs. Watch the madness and lies escalate as the inevitable draws closer.

The only question is what will be the final catalyst: a lawsuit? A criminal investigation? Congressional action? Or the IRS awakening from its quarter century slumber?

Notes