Paul Caron has an interesting post up about a lawsuit by an orthodox Jew seeking the same tax exemption the IRS has given the Scientologists:
A lawyer for an Orthodox Jewish couple claimed Monday that the Internal Revenue Service has violated the First Amendment by refusing to allow tax deductions for their children's religious schooling. The IRS should allow the deductions because it permits members of the Church of Scientology to write off the cost of spiritual counseling sessions, attorney Jeffrey Zuckerman said during the first day of a non-jury trial in U.S. Tax Court before Judge John O. Colvin. The First Amendment prohibits the IRS from discriminating on the basis of religion, Zuckerman said.
Coincidentally, we were talking about this case at lunch before the faculty seminar yesterday. It has all sorts of implications….
Well, the implications get really interesting if the courts ultimately decide to open the church/state floodgates a little rather than close the scientology loophole. The muslims, when they swept across Africa and the Middle East during the 600s AD, got a lot of converts to their religion simply by offering tax breaks for the faithful. An enterprising evangelical president might find a lesson here. If we can’t talk people into being godly, why not bribe them? People obtaining a secular education are then de facto punished, and could then be “encouraged” to join the faith.
Of course, there are crucial differences between the Middle East of 600AD and the US of today. The muslims also were relatively tolerant to other faiths at that time, taking over management from a Byzantine emperor who’d alienated everyone by assuming he had a mandate from God to do as he pleased irrespective of the opinions of vast numbers of his people (including the right to impose himself in matters of religious doctrine). Oh, yes–the emperors also fatally impoverished the Byzantine treasury by a useless invasion of Africa and Italy during the 500s, leaving the Byzantines unable to defend themselves from the Islamic threat that came just a few years later. Man, there are just too many similarities between the Byzantines and the US for comfort.
Costs of Scientologist spiritual counseling are rightly considered a donation rather than payment for a service because you don’t really get anything worthwhile in return 😉