Birmingham City Council warned over Scientology tax breaks

Sunday Mercury, UK/October 18, 2010

Midland council chiefs have been warned not to give tax breaks worth hundreds of thousands of pounds to the controversial Church of Scientology.

Birmingham City Council is among authorities thought to have given the movement, whose supporters include Tom Cruise and John Travolta, tax relief on the buildings they use.

And last night Communities Secretary Eric Pickles moved to cut the concessions, saying he did not think people would want their councils to give the organisation favoured tax treatment.

Mr Pickles said local authorities should look at the rulings of the Charity Commission, which in 1999 ruled Scientology was not a religion, and rejected its registration as a charity.

"Tolerance and freedom of expression are important British values," said Mr Pickles. "But this does not mean that the Church of Scientology deserves favoured tax treatment.

"The Church of Scientology is not a registered charity. The Charity Commission has ruled that it does not provide a public benefit. Nor are its premises a recognised place of worship.

"I do not believe the majority of the public would want their own council to be giving special tax breaks to such a controversial organisation."

The movement, founded in 1954 by American author L Ron Hubbard, has defended its status, saying that it provides valuable community service.

A Church of Scientology spokesman said: "Scientology is very popular with those who have visited our churches, met with Scientologists and observed or utilised our numerous community activities that effectively address drug abuse, illiteracy, declining moral values, human rights violations, criminality and more.

"Local council authorities, Government bodies in this country and many others, and the European Court of Human Rights have all recognised the religious nature of Scientology or the fact that Scientologists are actively helping those in their communities as a direct reflection of their religious beliefs."

Scientology's founder L Ron Hubbard named his idea dianetics, a self-awareness programme he claimed to have developed.

Birmingham City Council said: "We have noted Mr Pickles' comments and will take them on board."

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