A few anti-religious extremists and apostates have attempted to invent lies and spread misconceptions about the Church of Scientology and its financial practices, particularly with regard to donations from Scientologists.
All Churches of Scientology throughout the world follow the same financial practices with respect to the receipt, management and expenditure of funds. As with most religions, Churches of Scientology receive their primary financial support from their members.
Some religions have a system of tithes, and others require their members to pay money for pew rentals, religious ceremonies and services. In many countries, some religions receive government support and subsidies. In the Church of Scientology, parishioners make fixed donations for auditing and training services. These donations support the Church of Scientology and fund all the religious and social betterment activities in which the Church is engaged. Scientology is a young religion without the centuries of accumulated wealth other traditional religions have to draw upon. Therefore, Scientology must look to its members for its continued viability. Moreover, Scientology Churches neither receive, nor desire to receive, governmental support through “Church taxes” and other subsidies common in Europe.
In the Church of Scientology, parishioners make fixed donations for auditing and training services. These donations support the Church of Scientology and fund all the religious and social betterment activities in which the Church is engaged.
In the Church of Scientology, parishioners of Scientology contribute financially to the support and expansion of the religion, both by making donations in connection with their participation in religious services for their spiritual growth and by contributing generally to their Church and other Scientology-related organizations. Neither membership in any Church of Scientology nor access to any Church facility is conditional upon whether a person has contributed financial support to the Church or continues to contribute.
Due to the unique nature of their ministry, the Church has found that a fixed contribution system for participating in religious services is the most practical method of support for Churches of Scientology. These activities require the time of and facilities for a large number of highly trained ministers and other staff, but the resources of Churches of Scientology are determined by the level of parishioner support. Thus, Churches seek financial support from those engaging in the religious services that require the greater dedication of time and resources of the Church. The fixed donation system is the most fair and equitable method of accomplishing the religion’s purposes. These financial contributions generally cover the operating expenses of Churches of Scientology.
Church fundraising practices constituted a critical issue addressed by the United States Internal Revenue Service before ruling in 1993 that the Church and its related organizations were tax exempt. The IRS reached the conclusion that no funds are expended for the advantage of any Church leader or individual and that the Church serves “exclusively religious and charitable purposes.” Fixed contributions to Churches of Scientology in the United States are tax deductible, just as contributions to any other recognized church are deductible.
There are many ways one may be an active member in the Church of Scientology without any financial contribution. For example, Churches of Scientology hold weekly Sunday services wherein a minister or other speaker addresses the congregation concerning some aspect of Scientology religious doctrine. The congregation is also informed of upcoming events, other recent news and Church activities in which they may participate. No financial contribution is requested for Sunday services, nor are contributions requested for weddings, funerals or naming ceremonies.
The Church also sponsors international public events throughout the year celebrating the major holidays of the Scientology religion. These live events are attended by thousands of Scientologists from around the world. The major International Events are videotaped and exported to all Churches and missions of Scientology, where they are, in turn, seen by hundreds of thousands more all over the world. At these events, ecclesiastical leaders inform the congregation of recent accomplishments by the Church and individual Scientologists, further announce newly released religious programs and materials and plans for the future. No contribution is requested for any of these International Events.
Every Church of Scientology makes available charity auditing and a Free Scientology Center that ministers services without donations. In addition, scholarships are offered for those wishing to participate in training services. Individual Scientologists also minister millions of hours of spiritual counseling every year for which no donation is requested, as part of the Church’s Volunteer Minister program. Volunteer Ministers are trained in the application of Scientology principles and procedures to help people deal with a wide range of life situations.
A portion of the contributions received by Churches of Scientology from parishioners goes to the Church of Scientology International (CSI) to fund projects and activities of benefit to the entire Church of Scientology hierarchy. This includes the production of books, recorded materials and films, property purchases and property improvements necessary to expand Church programs, and operational expenses for ecclesiastical management and support. These monies also contribute to the Church’s extensive social betterment and social reform activities.
In addition to fixed donations for services, Churches of Scientology and the religion’s international membership association raise additional funding that provides for the opening of new Churches and the implementation of large-scale social programs around the world. A great number of international Church programs, especially in the fields of drug education and rehabilitation, raising literacy standards and advancing human rights, are funded by grants from the International Association of Scientologists (IAS), which raises donations from its members without regard to their participation in any services. Scientologists contribute because they wish to support the religion, its ministry and the Church’s many social betterment programs that benefit society as a whole.
Members pay annual membership dues or a one-time lifetime fee. There are additional levels of membership in the Association for those who provide substantial contributions. These contributions have enabled the IAS to provide grants for the funding of new Churches in major cities, including New York, Madrid, Hamburg, London, Rome, Washington, D.C., Moscow, Tel Aviv, Kaohsiung, Bogotá and Tokyo. IAS grants have further funded the international centers for Narconon, Applied Scholastics and The Way to Happiness, as well as a global Volunteer Minister Cavalcade—responsive to emergency and disaster relief ranging from New York after 9/11 to the Southeast Asia tsunami disaster and earthquakes from Haiti to Japan to Nepal.
Scientologists also support their religion through general donations by individual members to local Churches, as in any denomination, for their own building funds, sponsorship of missions and missionaries, and similar activities.
Courts examining the issue have determined that the method of fundraising used by Scientology Churches is no different in substance from fundraising practices of other religions.
The Italian Supreme Court, in a 1997 landmark decision regarding Scientology, thoroughly reviewed and analyzed the Church’s fundraising activities, drawing direct comparisons with the fundraising activities of the Catholic Church and other religions:
The very same religions which, according to the judges of the Appeals Court, should have represented the “common way of thinking” in the subject of religion, have, ever since, required their believers to pay donations which, in the early days of these religions, were extended in size far beyond the symbolic donations which are required nowadays. Italian Supreme Court of Cassation, case no. 13329, October 8, 1997
Commenting on the list of “donations for services” used by Scientology Churches, the Court stated, “In fact, until not many years ago, similar lists, no less detailed and precise, were known to be displayed at the doors of several sacristies of Catholic Churches.” The Court went on to address other fundraising activities of the Catholic Church, “…of which no one ever dreamed of denying its religious status…” noting the sale of indulgences “based on an unbearable and terrifying emphasis on the expiatory pain that believers were going to face once dead” as a far greater cause for concern.
Finally, the Supreme Court determined there is nothing unusual about how the Church of Scientology raises its funds.
The dissemination of religious faith—much like any human activity—costs money which, though reduced to a minimum, cannot be eliminated. These costs are usually covered with donation from believers and associates.
German courts have also determined that there is nothing unusual about Church of Scientology fundraising methods and that, indeed, such methods are fairer than those used in certain other faiths. The Frankfurt Regional Court, in a 1989 decision, compared the funding system of Scientology Churches to flat-rate tithing, and concluded:
If gifts or voluntary contributions are paid by the members on the occasion of the concrete use of ecclesiastical services, this is only one imaginable form of financing of a religious community, which can possibly be regarded as fairer than the demand of a flat-rate percentage of the member’s income.1
Likewise, in a 1998 decision, the Hamburg Superior Court also found the Church’s fundraising practices completely appropriate:
The [Church] is recognized as a religious community, its financing through contributions in the form of donations does not constitute a commercial activity according to the general view…. The services offered by the [Church] therefore cannot be viewed from the position of a normal price-service relationship.2
On December 12, 2003, the Administrative Court of Appeal Baden-Württemberg ruled in a case involving the Church of Scientology of Stuttgart that claims from the tax office that it was a commercial organization based on its fundraising practices were unfounded. The court held that the Church’s fundraising practices did not constitute a commercial activity.
The High Court of Australia also examined and rejected assertions of “commercialism” based on donations by parishioners for religious services and for instruction leading to ordination. The High Court dismissed these concerns out of hand, noting that the Church:
[E]asily discharged the onus of showing that it is religious. The conclusion that it is a religious institution entitled to tax exemption is irresistible. Church of the New Faith v. Commissioner of Payroll Tax (Vict.) 1983 154 CLR 120
Despite assertions to the contrary, many of the major religions require financial payments as a prerequisite for participating in their central, or “core,” religious services:
Thus, the Scientology financial contribution system is comparable to the financial systems of many other religions. Under these circumstances, donations for Scientology religious services should be treated exactly the same as other religions, as they do not differ in substance from donations by parishioners of other religions to secure access to worship and similar religious rituals in their respective faiths.
Churches of Scientology offer parishioners a myriad of ways to engage in religious activities without making any monetary donations. Individuals may apply Scientology themselves simply by reading a book made available by the Church in libraries throughout the world. Every Church of Scientology offers charity auditing and a Free Scientology Center that ministers services without donations. In addition, scholarships are offered for those wishing to participate in training services. Moreover, donations are never requested for attendance at Sunday services and other congregational gatherings, including international religious events.
Donations to Churches of Scientology are used to fund its extensive charitable activities around the world, including community outreach and assistance programs to improve society, reverse social decay, resolve drug addiction, educate youth and the public on their human rights, promote a secular moral code written by Mr. Hubbard, fight illiteracy, provide disaster relief, reform abuses in the mental health field, improve local communities and enhance educational methods.