In the world of religious tax exemptions, does Scientology measure up? - 2017-11-16
In addition to being megalomaniac leaders of cult-like movements, the late L. Ron Hubbard and Donald Trump have shared an aversion to paying taxes. The founder of Scientology waged a ruthless battle to win a religious tax exemption from the Internal Revenue Service, while the president has boasted about his tax avoidance and refuses to release his returns. How ironic, then, that, according to a recent news report, the Trump administration may revoke Scientology's exemption.
Though Hubbard, ever the entrepreneur, founded Scientology as a for-profit entity in 1952, he quickly realized the pecuniary benefits of "the religion angle," as he put it in a letter to one of his acolytes. After the federal government revoked the tax exemption it had awarded Scientology in 1956, Hubbard went to war. The church's efforts culminated in Operation Snow White, a seven-year long campaign of dirty tricks that resulted in 11 senior church officials (including Hubbard's wife) pleading guilty to obstruction of justice, burglary of government offices and theft of documents in 1978. Undeterred, the church later hired private investigators to snoop on IRS employees. Scientology even set up a front group, the National Coalition of IRS Whistle-Blowers, to discredit the agency.
The campaign worked. When Hubbard's protégé, David Miscavige, strolled unannounced into IRS headquarters 13 years later and offered to drop the roughly 2,500 lawsuits individual Scientologists had filed against the agency in exchange for a tax exemption, the beleaguered IRS agreed.