IRS should review Scientology tax-exempt status - 2011-11-20
The curtain shielding the Church of Scientology's high-pressure fundraising in Clearwater and elsewhere has been raised, and the view is not pretty. In a revealing St. Petersburg Times series, former Scientology fundraisers detail the coercive methods they used in their desperate efforts to meet weekly quotas. Former church members describe how they were repeatedly harassed into making contributions and buying Scientology materials they could not reasonably afford. The revelations warrant a review by the Internal Revenue Service of Scientology's practices and a debate in Congress about requiring more openness from religious institutions about their finances.
The Times' series by Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin offers an unprecedented inside look at Scientology's continuous money machine and the strategies used to keep it humming. Scientology brings in $100 million a year just from services sold in Clearwater, and former fundraiser Hy Levy recounted being paid $50 a week for years to meet weekly sales targets of $200,000 and higher. Former church members recounted how they were intimidated into giving money by repeated phone calls, unexpected visits to their homes and intimidating encounters on church property. Church officials say they are "very proud" of the donations and insist the contributions are voluntarily made by members who want to support the organization. That characterization is at odds with the first-hand accounts by the former fundraisers and donors in the Times series.
The remarkable pressure created by the Scientology money machine is felt by all sides. Levy and other fundraisers described being verbally berated by supervisors, fed meals of rice and beans, and forced to wash dishes if they failed to meet their weekly quotas. Former church members described how they were pressured to max out credit cards, home equity lines of credit and tap other sources of money for counseling or Scientology materials. While the church says its fundraising practices are no different than those used by other religious institutions, the year-round obsessive fundraising and Scientology's aggressive tactics are not commonly associated with other religions.