A Dutch tax court on Wednesday denied Scientology the tax-exempt status of a public benefit organisation, ruling that it was clearly a commercial enterprise.
This decision comes after last December’s Supreme Court ruling overturning an appeal court decision that had gone in Scientology’s favour, as we reported here at the time.
A Scientology spokesman denounced the ruling as religious discrimination, the Dutch newspaper Trouw reported Wednesday. It was not yet clear if the movement would appeal, added reporter Robin de Wever. But the ruling means that Scientologists there will not be able to claim tax breaks for payments to the organisation.
After the tax laws were tightened, the Scientology church (‘kerk’ in Dutch) in Amsterdam, SKA, fought a series of court cases to retain the tax breaks accorded a public benefit organisation, or charity. When this particular court battle started, in 2007, 50 percent of an organisation’s activities needed to have a public benefit.
The Supreme Court ruled last December that even if the Church of Scientology in Amsterdam, was a genuine church, it did not necessarily meet this criterion, and sent the case back to the lower courts for further consideration.
Wednesday’s latest judgment noted that tax officials were not disputing what Scientology said about the religious nature of its auditing and training. What they were arguing was that Scientology served private interests rather than being in the public interest.
It was for Scientology to take up the challenge issued by tax officials, said the court; it had to show that the services it sold for individuals’ spiritual development served the public interest. The court took the view that Scientology had not met that challenge.
Scientology had argued that its work fighting drug addiction and illiteracy across the world, its campaigns for prison reform and the rights of patients, spoke to the public interest aspect of its work.
But the judgment listed some of the prices charged in 2011 for members’ courses: from 90 euros for a Dianetics seminar to 2,950 for one intensive auditing.
For the court, the fact that Scientology offered its auditing and training at “substantial and fixed rates” was crucial. Tax officials had calculated that the average hourly rate for auditing and training came to 520 euros; 235 euros for the intensives.
That was “significantly higher” than hourly rates applied by commercial education institutes which – if they had set such rates – would be offering the equivalent of the best education by the best teachers in the best locations, said the court.
Given these commercial rates, it could not just be assumed that the public interest was being served as much as private interests, even if it was for a religious purpose, said the court. The auditing and training offered by Scientology in Amsterdam made up more than 50 percent of its activities, which meant its activities were mainly commercial.
Scientology had been unable to demonstrate “that the public interest is at least equally served as private interest”, the court concluded.
Corresponding with Robin de Wever to check details of the story, he gave me some useful background on this affair. “Dutch tax law switched in 2008 from a system in which any organization could sign itself up for these tax breaks (and the Dutch IRS would randomly check a number of organizations) to a system where every organization had to file a request to get such a status.”
He also pointed me to an interesting part of the judgment that I’d missed. In paragraph 8.12 of the ruling, he explained, “the judge notes that course and auditing prices are ’not only meant to cover costs.’ The SKA ‘knowingly strives for surpluses, that are to be used for its own conservation and has reached exploitation surpluses, which has lead to a significant wealth.’
“Plain English: the SKA charges so much that it clearly makes a profit and it has used that profit to amass a ’significant wealth’,” de Wever explained.
If you have time, use Google Translate to take a look at his in-depth investigation of Scientology over at Trouw. This one is an interview with a former member declared suppressive, who believes in the efficacy of some Scientology techniques; and this one looks at Scientology’s relentless pursuit of money.
De Wever is a religious affairs specialist and you can find some of his others articles at his own website.
— Jonny Jacobsen
Sydney comes through
Wow, what a first couple of days we had in Sydney. After we arrived following the 14-hour flight from Los Angeles, Bryan Seymour picked us up at the airport and took us directly to the Channel 7 studios, where we were put right onto The Morning Show for a lengthy segment that really got a lot of attention. Soon we were hearing that the mid-day show The Daily Edition wanted us, Bryan did his own piece, and we were also called in by the Sunrise program the next morning. Meanwhile, Steve Cannane was arranging for us to appear on numerous radio shows and TV over at the ABC network. We were basically running from one show to another all the way up to Friday night’s event at the Giant Dwarf Theatre in Redfern.
It was especially a treat for us that Ramana Dienes-Browning came early so we could finally meet her for the first time, backstage. And so many others made the scene, including many Bunkerites. The theater had 180 seats out and only a few weren’t filled. And what a great show put on by Steve Cannane and Bryan Seymour. We’re glad we were along for the ride!
Cannane will be with us in Melbourne for Sunday afternoon’s event at the Wheeler Center. (It’s “sold out,” but it’s also free, so come on by anyway even if you don’t have a ticket to see if there’s space). And then Bryan Seymour will be with us in Adelaide, where we’ll join Nick Xenophon, and Bryan is also coming with us to Perth!
We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, so we’ve posted them at a dedicated page. Reader Sookie put together a complete index and we’re hosting it here on the website. Copies of the paperback version of ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ are on sale at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available, and shipping instantly.
Tony Ortega’s upcoming appearances (and check out the interactive map to our ongoing tour)…
Oct 25: Melbourne, The Wheeler Centre, 3 pm, free but reservations recommended (with Steve Cannane)
Oct 28: Adelaide, Wheatsheaf Hotel, (with Sen. Nick Xenophon and Bryan Seymour)
Oct 30: Perth, Collins Street Centre, Collins St and Shaftesbury St, South Perth, 7 pm (with Bryan Seymour)
Past dates: Santa Barbara (5/16), Hollywood (5/17), Orange County (5/17), San Diego (5/20), San Francisco (5/22), New York (6/11), Chicago (6/20), Toronto (6/22), Clearwater (6/28), Washington DC (7/12), Hartford (7/14), Denver (7/17), Dallas (7/20), Houston (7/22), San Antonio (7/24), Austin (7/25), Paris (7/29), London (8/4), Boston (8/24), Phoenix (9/15), Cleveland (9/23), Minneapolis (9/24), Portland (9/27), Seattle (9/28), Vancouver BC (9/29), Sydney (10/23), Melbourne (10/25)
Posted by Tony Ortega on October 24, 2015 at 07:00
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield