Contentious group wins exemption in Germany, may reclaim levies paid since 1994
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany), Feb. 7, 2003
By Carola Schlagheck
The U.S. Scientology organization, denounced by German politicians as a criminal cult and kept under political surveillance since 1997, was granted tax exemption by the Federal Finance Office on Monday.
The office said that it had based its decision on an agreement between Germany and the United States governing double taxation. Scientology is exempted from taxation in the United States as a non-profit religious group. To avoid double taxation, the German authority said Scientology thus does not have to pay taxes on gains repatriated to the United States from license fees for film material in Germany.
The ruling applies to the period 1994-2005. It allows Scientology to recover taxes already paid to the government during that period. The tax exemption was made retroactive to the date of Scientology’s legal complaint in 1996 and is usually granted for three more years, Frank Ebermann of the finance office told F.A.Z. Weekly. Scientology has been paying 25 percent of its proceeds in taxes.
Ebermann confirmed that “the decision did not imply any acknowledgment of Scientology as a church in Germany.“ He also stressed that the ruling didn’t apply to proceeds obtained in Germany that aren’t passed on to the United States. He declined to quote the amount Scientology may now recover from the German government.
Leisa Goodman, human rights director of Church of Scientology International, told F.A.Z. Weekly that “this decision is what tax exemption for churches is all about, allowing the church to use more of its resources to expand our religious ministry, help even more people and increase our drug prevention and other community betterment programs.“
Scientology, founded in 1954 by U.S. science-fiction author Lafayette Ronald Hubbard in the United States, expanded in 1970 to Germany, where it has some 6,000 members, according to estimates from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. In its 2001 report, this agency says that Scientology is seeking to undermine the constitution by calling for a Scientology system replacing democracy.
Germany officially acknowledges the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church, which levy taxes on their members that are collected by the state. The German government last month also signed a treaty with the Central Council of Jews.