Your Taxes: A Court Decision For Scientologist

Source: New York Times
Date: December 14, 1991

In a decision that has roiled long-established practice, a Federal appeals court has legitimized a challenge to deductions for certain charitable contributions by a Scientologist, who contended that he had been a victim of discrimination.

At issue is the deductibilty of contributions to religious organizations when the church or synagogue provides something in return.

The decision in question, issued this autumn when the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, vacated a district court's dismissal, backs an assertion by a member of the church that the I.R.S. discriminated against him by denying his charitable deduction on the ground that his payments were tied to a specific benefit: one-on-one sessions with a church figure for which a price list is published and payment required.

George H. Powell's victory means that the matter must now be reconsidered in court, and the I.R.S. and others are forced to take a fresh look at Scientology's contention that mainstream religious organizations also provide a quid pro quo for participation in religious services. At issue are such things as pew rents, Mass stipends, High Holy Day tickets, and tithes. Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews and Mormons employ one or more of these.

The Church of Scientology has fought with the Internal Revenue Service over its status for years.

Although few believe that the charitable deduction, one of the most widely used, will ultimately be compromised or lost, it seems possible that Scientology will gain equal footing. Consequently, the decision is being taken seriously both by the service and by some church representatives here. "It might stick," said Donald C. Alexander, a former head of the I.R.S. and now a Washington consultant to nonprofit groups. "It's not a frivolous issue."

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