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Day After French Defeat, Scientology Handed A Friendly Verdict From The Dutch

SciAmsterdamYesterday, France’s highest court laid down an historic decision, upholding a verdict that found the Church of Scientology’s Paris Celebrity Centre had fraudulently harmed people simply by applying Scientology’s normal processes.

It was the culmination of years of prosecutions, countered by the usual circus-like Scientology court shenanigans in appeals, but ultimately, France held fast. In that country, Scientology is not a religion, it’s a business that harms people. One more conviction, pointed out a member of the parliament, and Scientology could be dissolved utterly in France.

Then, just a day later, a very different verdict a few hundred kilometers to the north in the country of the Netherlands, which granted tax-exempt status to Amsterdam’s Scientology “org.” News organizations here in the United States are treating both verdicts as if they were of equal import. (Meaning, they’re running short wire stories with no real details about either case.)

But treating these two verdicts equally is a big mistake.

First, we turn to our intrepid man in Europe, British journalist Jonny Jacobsen, who brings us up to speed on today’s verdict…

An appeal court in Amsterdam has overturned a lower court ruling refusing the Church of Scientology there the status of a public benefit organisation (or ANBI).

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The ruling grants Scientology the associated tax benefits, backdated to when they first made the application for this status, six years ago.

In September 2007, the Amsterdam Church of Scientology first applied to be considered a public benefit organisation (or ANBI).

An official Dutch website explaining its legal system has a handy English-language summary spelling out the benefits of ANBI status (Stop me if this sounds familiar):

— it does not pay Dutch inheritance tax or gift tax on inheritances or gifts that the institution allocates to the general good.
— it does not pay Dutch gift tax on gifts that the institution makes for the general good.
— Natural and legal persons making donations to an ANBI may deduct their gifts from their Dutch income tax or corporate income tax.

Initially, the local tax authorities turned down Scientology’s bid, ruling that the movement did not meet all the necessary conditions: that first refusal was in April 2008.

Scientology appealed and the authorities maintained their position in a November 2011 ruling and a district court ruling in July 2012 also went against them.

Today’s ruling, however, went the other way.

Scientology had argued that the courses it sold in auditing and other services did not constitute commercial operations but were an integral part of their religious activity.

The appeal court noted that prices ranged from about 56 euros for auditing or training for beginners to up to 4,450 for more advanced courses.

“The rates for auditing and training have not increased since 1996,” it added.

The appeal court accepted Scientology’s version of the facts.

The lower court ruling had said that selling such courses constituted a commercial activity that was not compatible with ANBI status.

But today’s appeal court ruling reverses that — so advantage, Scientology.

I had a quick word with Dutch Supressive Guy, who as we’ve reported here before is very active lobbying the Dutch authorities on this, and other Scientology-related matters.

He says he’s on the case, so the Scilons might want to wait before breaking out the Jenever.

And I suppose there is always a chance the Dutch authorities will take the case to the Supreme Court.

 
We also reached out to Karin Spaink, the legendary Dutch Scientology critic who endured a hellacious legal onslaught from the church when she fought in the 1990s to publish Scientology’s esoteric teachings online.

“I think that the court is incredibly naive. It’s obvious that the Church of Scientology is not doing anything for the general interest. In the Netherlands, we don’t even get the fake public appearances that Scientology USA demonstratively performs. My guess is that freedom of religion was the focal point. The Dutch are very much fans of equal opportunity,” she says.

She also points out, as Jonny did, that the appeals court relied on information supplied by Scientology which really doesn’t match any reality longtime observers are aware of.

“The court believes that ‘People who cannot afford to pay, must be able to follow these courses and trainings at a reduced rate, or even free.’ Hah! Not within Scientology,” she says.

Our own reporting suggests that Scientology’s presence in the Netherlands is actually very tiny, even almost nonexistent. People we know who have lived in The Hague and other Dutch towns tell us that the Amsterdam org is really Scientology’s only outpost in the entire country. And Mike Rinder has recently published reports that the Amsterdam org is practically finished as well.

So in the end, this is a verdict which may do little more than give Scientology some back taxes. It’s hard to see Scientology making a big comeback in that country, even with its reputation for tolerance.

 
UPDATE: You’re going to love Scientology’s press release about the verdict. As Jonny says, “hip, hip, hooray!”

Amsterdam – In a major victory for the Church of Scientology and its parishioners in the Netherlands, the Appeals Tax Court of Amsterdam confirmed today the Church of Scientology Amsterdam is operated exclusively for the public benefit and its activities are religious and ideological in nature.

Last year, the court of Haarlem affirmed that the services the Church provides to its parishioners—auditing and training—are religious in nature. Today, the Court ruled that the Church of Scientology must be treated the same as other religious organizations under the law. The Court determined that the Church of Scientology is a Public Benefit Institution because its activities are exclusively religious in nature. It also found that the purpose and objective of participating in Scientology religious services was no different than the purpose and objective of participating in the religious services of other religious institutions.

The Church of Scientology of Amsterdam was established in 1974 and has been steadily working for the benefit of all. In addition to serving its parishioners, it sponsors effective social betterment programs reaching thousands.

Scientology is a worldwide religious movement practiced in 184 nations. Its bona fides and the rights of its members to practice their faith unimpeded by government interference have been acknowledged by the high courts of many nations, including unanimous decisions by the European Court of Human Rights. The Church and its members are active in humanitarian initiatives and social betterment programs in the fields of drug abuse prevention, human rights, literacy, criminal reform, morals education and disaster relief, helping millions.

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on October 17, 2013 at 16:30

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