The church of Scientology was skewered recently in the recent HBO documentary “Going Clear.” If you don’t subscribe to HBO, you’ve missed a lot of very good documentary reportage, including the shocking conclusion to “The Jinx” which pretty effectively outed sociopath multi-millionaire Robert Durst as the murderer that he probably is.
Knowing very little about Scientology, but having heard about the organization for years, I thought it would be an interesting introduction to the religion it purports to be. It appears to be a money-making cult that has sucked many millions of dollars from thousands who long to live a good life and do good for others—and who are fairly afraid of coming out against Scientology for fear they will be attacked and sued. (See this, that came up at the top of a Google search for “Going Clear Scientology.” These people are rabid.)
I’m not going into too many specifics here (watch the documentary for yourself, or read the book on which the two-hour documentary was based); suffice it to say that while it has always been my policy to respect others’ religious beliefs, I can’t fathom how Scientology can claim it’s a religion, or a church.
Scientology has developed a reputation for aggressively attacking those who leave the organization, or anyone who criticizes their beliefs. Their most effective tactic has been to be litigious beyond belief. They have the money to file many lawsuits against their perceived enemies or detractors (and have done so, which I’ll get to in a minute), and they have no compunction against massive publicity campaigns aimed to discredit those detractors (they are all over YouTube right now, attacking the “Going Clear” documentary). They have a ton of money and they use it to make more money and to protect their power.
Ron Hubbard (portrayed in the documentary as a near madman) had Scientology declared a church, but its tax-exempt status was revoked in 1967 by the Internal Revenue Service. The leaders of the church then launched a 25-year battle to re-attain the tax-exempt status, which was regained in 1993. According to testimony in “Going Clear,” the IRS had a $1-billion claim against the assets of the group, so the group filed over 2,800 lawsuits against the Internal Revenue Service. Do you know what happened? The IRS caved because of the suits filed against it and its staff.
Churches pay no property taxes. For years, there’s been a debate on whether this is fair and equitable (see pros and cons of this debate here). It seems to me that the outcome of the Scientology outing should have an impact on why and how churches can claim to be tax-exempt.
This whole idea keeps racing through my brain as I drive down Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard every day. If you check the New Orleans assessor’s records, it seems as though the majority of the buildings on OCH are owned by churches and non-profit organization, some of which have obvious community benefits. But tell me why a non-profit or a church is allowed to own and sell property for a profit—without it necessarly being used within the mission statement of the non-profit? Methinks it’s another way to make easy money.
We’ve had so many issues in this city with non-profits ripping off people—especially poor people. Owning and selling property—along with being able to pay non-profit staff totally out-of-whack salaries (the hallmark of many non-profits)—is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.
Let’s face it: most businesses in this country are small businesses. If they could all become the “church” of something-or-other and yet provide services to their community (what small business doesn’t—and typically makes just enough to make its owners a living), then why can’t they file for “church-hood” too? Hey, if we all want to start a non-profit, I say we form the “Church of New Orleans.” And then buy and sell a lot of property and pay no taxes either.
On to music…drop by our two French Quarter Fest booths (one on the Riverfront near the Aquarium, and one at the Old U.S. Mint) to sign up for a chance to win a pair of Jazz Fest tickets!