“Going Clear” filmmaker Alex Gibney called for revoking Scientology’s tax-exempt status in an op-ed published Saturday.
“In the past, critics of the church have called for its tax exemption to be revoked because it is not a ‘real religion,'” he wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “I agree that tax-exemption isn’t merited, but not for that reason.”
Instead Gibney argued that the abuses that his documentary exposed as well as the fact that tax exempt status requires that the organization not “serve the private interests of any individual,” were central reasons.
“To maintain the right to be tax-exempt … religions must fulfill certain requirements for charitable organizations,” he stated in the newspaper. “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.'”
“It seems clear that Scientology is ruled by only one man, David Miscavige,” Gibney continued in the piece. “Further, powerful celebrities within the church, particularly Tom Cruise, receive private benefits through the exploitation of low-wage labor (clergy members belonging to the Sea Org make roughly 40 cents an hour) and other use of church assets for his personal gain.”
Gibney’s documentary “Going Clear” exposed slave labor on Scientology’s Sea Org boats, members forced to “disconnect” from disobedient family members, alleged physical abuse by church leader David Miscavige, maintaining a prison camp to punish and control senior church officials, themes first expored by Lawrence Wright in his book by the same name.
Scientology’s activities are currently protected by the First Amendment as religious practices, the church having convinced the IRS to exempt it from taxation more than 20 years ago. As a result, all donations to the church are currently tax-deductible. That can’t continue, Gibney wrote.
Gibney believes that many church activities are either illegal or at least a “violation of public policy.” Among the allegations from his film and his editorial, those alleged crimes may include “false imprisonment, human trafficking, wiretaps, assault, harassment and invasion of privacy.”
He added: “And the church doctrine of ‘disconnection,’ in which members are forced to ‘disconnect’ from anyone critical of the church, seems cruelly at odds with any reasonable definition of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'”
Gibney sees two options to tackle a problem that he recently brought back into the public perspective on HBO. First, he wants a “proper criminal investigation that [follows] the money.”
There’s another option he sees: “Or a congressional subcommittee investigation could force Miscavige … to testify under oath about allegations of abuse.”
“There is ample precedent for the revocation of tax-exempt status: It happens more than 100 times per year,” Gibney concluded. He just wants to see one of those target Scientology, hitting the church in what he believes to be its true power source — the wallet.
“Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief” was a ratings hit for the pay-TV channel, garnering 1.7 million viewers with its premiere — the most for an HBO documentary in nearly a decade.