Exclusive Brethren: Costello defends sect’s tax breaks

The fundamentalist Christian sect, the Exclusive Brethren, is essentially no different to mainstream churches and is therefore entitled to the same tax exemptions and other breaks, the Treasurer, Peter Costello, says.

Amid growing criticism of the movement’s activities and alleged political influence, Mr Costello said the Exclusive Brethren was “just a religion that is not as well-known” as the Catholic and Uniting Churches, and the Church of Scientology.

“No religious organisation pays rates, no church does, not even those churches that are always lecturing the public about how taxes should be higher pay rates on their properties,” he said.

“It’s not something that’s unique to the Exclusive Brethren, it’s something that you get for being a church.”

The Exclusive Brethren was as entitled as other churches to express its political views, he said.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, also defended the movement yesterday, saying its beliefs, which include refusing to vote, should be respected and not vilified. “I’ve met a lot more fanatical people in my life than the Exclusive Brethren,” he said.

Voting is compulsory in Australia but abstaining due to religious beliefs “constitutes a valid and sufficient reason for the failure of the elector to vote”.

The Greens senator, Bob Brown, said Mr Howard had to explain his association with the sect.

Mr Howard said on Tuesday he had met the group, which was at odds with a statement from his department in response to a freedom of information request that he had not.

Senator Brown said Mr Howard was quick to admonish Muslims for not adhering to mainstream values but would not do the same to “this radical Christian sect”.

The Exclusive Brethren prohibits children going to university, excludes married women from working, and does not allow single women to work if they have authority over men, he said.

“Muslim children in Australia are not prohibited from their basic right to a university education,” he said.

The Labor frontbencher Kevin Rudd said that he was concerned that the sect’s schools received public funding.

“The Exclusive Brethren, based on my advice, actively discourages children from using information technology, from learning how to use computers properly because they will provide avenues of contact with the outside world,” he said. “I have real reservations having federal taxpayers’ money going into those sorts of schools.”

In August last year, then education minister Brendan Nelson admonished Muslim schools not teaching Australian values.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday September 28, 2006.
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