The Church of Scientology has benefited from a decision in the Appeals Tax Court of Amsterdam, which finds that the organisation “is operated exclusively for the public benefit and its activities are religious and ideological in nature” and therefore the Church’s revenues are now tax exempt.
The Church of Scientology in the Netherlands is part of the worldwide organization Church of Scientology International, which was founded in 1954. The Church of Scientology of California (La Quinta, USA) is the mother church. On April 25, 1977 the umbrella organization for the Netherlands Church of Scientology was founded.
SKA, which was founded on May 2, 1977, and serves as the center of the Scientology community in the Netherlands. The Church of Scientology is hierarchical in structure. There is a central body, which oversees the worldwide organization – from which instructions flow down to the regional, national and local bodies.
On 28th September 2007, the Church of Scientology in the Netherlands applied to the tax authorities to be considered as a public benefit organisation – or ANBI. In April 2008, the inspector decided that the Church of Scientology in the Netherlands did not comply with one or more conditions needed to qualify as an ANBI.
In November 2011, that decision was upheld by the tax authorities. The case was later referred to the courts. Both the court in Haarlem and the appeals court looked into the statutes of the organisation, its activities and the beliefs of its followers. The authorities also took note of the fee structures involved and whether this constituted a semi-commercial activity:
“…Auditing and training are the main activities of SKA. They are given a fee. The price for an auditing or training in SKA is determined by type of auditing or training. The prices range from about € 56 (f 125) for auditing or training for beginners and then to rise to about € 4,450 (f 9800) for auditing or training for highly using amounts of about € 2,950 (f 6500) for more advanced advanced learners. The rates for auditing and training are not increased since 1996.
“Auditing and training together make up more than 50% of the activities of SKA in 2008 and 2009.
“In addition to the above activities include the activities of SKA operating a cafeteria and a bookshop, giving “Introduction courses & services” to resolve personal problems and giving “Administration & Management Courses”, in which participants learn the structure and activities of SKA to be used in a business organization, such as a company…”
The focus on fee-paying services was also balanced against an in-depth audit of the pastoral work of the organisation, such as drugs rehabilitation and efforts to combat illiteracy.
In the appeal, Judaism, the Mormon church, Catholicism, Hinduism and Zen Buddhism were all referenced as religions which include fee structures for religious benefit and were called upon as comparable cases.
The Church of Scientology said in a statement following the decision:
“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.”