The Church of Scientology’s tax-exempt status as a religion is not for Congress to question, according to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). While Durbin has in the past urged the Internal Revenue Service to look into the tax-exempt status of certain organizations, he’s not doing so with the Church of Scientology, a religion gaining new attention after being profiled in the HBO documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.”
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Durbin can’t recall an instance where Congress has “defined a church or a religion,” and says it’s up to the IRS to decide a group’s tax status.
“I think that’s appropriate,” Durbin said. “I’m afraid if we got into the business of defining religion by a vote in Congress we’d be overstepping our authority.”
The IRS decides whether an organization seeking tax-exempt status as a church has a “religious purpose” by asking whether its beliefs are “truly and sincerely held” and whether the organization’s practices and beliefs are legal or “contrary to clearly defined public policy.”
“Going Clear” alleges the church gained its tax-exempt status by pressuring the IRS with dozens of lawsuits.
Scientology’s presence in Illinois is limited to a church in Chicago, along with smaller “missions” in Peoria and Champaign. It’s looking to open a larger church in a building it has owned since 2007 in Chicago. Durbin was asked if he’s worried about an expansion of Scientology in the state.
“I have concerns about some of the things I read, but I don’t have any evidence to back it up, other than what I’ve read,” Durbin said. “I’m sure they’re going to be subject to the same standards and laws as every other religion, and they should be.”
A petition on whitehouse.gov calling on the federal government to revoke the Church of Scientology’s tax-exempt status has collected more than 21,000 signatures since March 23.