Filmmaker Alex Gibney wrote an op-ed published in today’s LA Times. Gibney, the director of the recently-aired HBO documentary Going Clear, outlines a pattern of harassment by the Church of Scientology that targets both him and and the writer Lawrence Wright (Gibney’s documentary was based on Wright’s book). He also calls for the IRS to revoke the church’s tax-exempt status and suggests the need for a congressional subcommittee.
In the wake of Wright’s book and the film, many reporters, critics and ex-Scientologists seem to be more confident about speaking out and investigating ongoing charges of abuse. Only a few days ago, this newspaper published a story about a private investigator armed with a cache of weapons and 2,000 rounds of ammunition, who was allegedly paid by Scientology to spy on the father of the church’s “Chairman of the Board,” David Miscavige. A number of articles have even raised the question of whether the church should be permitted to maintain its tax-exempt status in the face of so many alleged or documented civil rights abuses...It’s an important question, since it implicates all of us.
The church was deemed tax-exempt by the IRS in 1993 and, as with all religious organizations, donations are tax-deductible. And while many have called to repeal Scientology’s tax-exempt status, the IRS takes little to no interest in determining the authenticity of religious organizations. Gibney notes, “Scientologists are entitled to believe what they want to believe. And the IRS website makes it clear that anyone is entitled to start a religion at any time without seeking IRS permission.”
He argues, however, that their tax-exempt status should be revoked because the church is in violation of IRS rules:
For example, they may not “serve the private interests of any individual” and/or “the organization’s purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy.”
On these points alone, it is hard to see why Americans should subsidize Scientology through its tax-exemption.
Gibney believes that Scientology is in essence an entire organization built around the “private interests” of its leader, David Miscavige.
A proper criminal investigation that followed the money — a virtual river of cash from tax-exempt donations and fees — could sort out some of these issues. Or a congressional subcommittee investigation could force Miscavige — who was unwilling to answer questions for Wright’s book or the film — to testify under oath about allegations of abuse.
It’s an interesting read and Gibney is always as entertaining as he is righteous.
Image via Getty.