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In den USA hat eine Vereinbarung zwischen dem Bundesfinanzamt IRS und der Scientology-Organisation IRS-CoS-Vertrag-1993.htm von 1993 offenbar zur Folge, dass auch die Ausbildungs-Aktivitäten von der Steuer abgesetzt werden können, so zum Beispiel die Kosten für die Privatschulen der Scientology-Organisation.
Jetzt verlangen jüdische Eltern Gleichbehandlung, nämlich ebenfalls Steuerbefreiung für die Kosten des Besuchs einer jüdischen Privatschule.
Gewinnen sie ihren Prozess
in Los Angeles, hätte das weitreichende Folgen.
Steuerberater und Rechtsanwälte beobachten deshalb den Prozess.
Es geht letztlich um die Frage, ob sich wegen des Gleichheitsgrundsatzes alle auf die "private" Verienbarung zwischen dem IRS und der Scientology-Organisation berufen können oder ob für den Rest der Steuerzahler nach wie vor das normale Gesetz gilt.
Es geht dabei auch um
Insbesondere um den Grundsatz der Trennung von Kirche und Staat.
Wenn nämlich Schulgeld religiöser Privatschulen von der Steuer abgesetzt werden kann, dann würde das bedeuten, dass alle Steuerzahler diese Religion finanziell unterstützen.
Allerdings werden alle
diese Fragen nicht endgültig in diesem Prozess entschieden, in dem
es nur um Steuern in Höhe von 3.200 Dollar geht. Das verdeutlichte
auch Richter Barry Silverman, der erklärte: "Wir haben nur zu entscheiden,
ob der Steuerabzug berechtigt ist, nicht, ob die Mitglieder der Scientology
Kirche das auserwählte Volk des Finanzamtes sind" (>>).
Jahrzehntelang (dazu die
Timeline von Chris Owens unter http://www.lermanet.com/cos/taxanalysts/irstimeline.htm
hat die Scientology-Organisation vergeblich gegen die US-Bundesregierung prozessiert, um Steuerfreiheit durchzusetzen. Die Scientology-Organisation hat Abhöreinrichtungen in Regierungsbehörden installiert und Dokumente gestohlen, um Informationen für diese Prozesse zu gewinnen. Die Führungsriege wurde schliesslich wegen Bildung einer kriminellen Vereinigung verurteilt, allen voran Mary Sue Hubbard, die Ehefrau des Scientology-Gründers. Dazu mehr: HubbardMarySue-Anklage.htm
Anfang der 1990er wurde das Bundesfinanzamt massiv unter Druck gesetzt und zahlreiche seiner Mitarbeiter verklagt.
Der Vertrag mit dem Bundesfinanzamt der USA von 1993
1993 hat das Bundesfinanzamt
IRS mit der Scientology-Organisation eine Vereinbarung getroffen: Die Scientology-Organisation
wurde als gemeinnützig anerkannt und Steuerfreiheit gewährt.
Die Vereinbarung von 1993 wurde von der US-Regierung nicht veröffentlicht. Erst durch eine Veröffentlichung des Wall Street Journal wurde diese der Öffentlichkeit bekannt.
Wortlaut: http://www.Ingo-Heinemann.de/IRS-CoS-Vertrag-1993.htmSeither behauptet die Scientology-Organisation, sie sei in den USA als Religion anerkannt.
Auswirkungen auf Europa
Der Vertrag von 1993 hatte
Auswirkungen auch auf europäische Länder.
Jede Behinderung der Scientology-Organisation in anderen Ländern wird seither von den USA als religiöse Diskriminierung beurteilt und in Berichten über den Zustand der Religionsfreiheit aufgelistet.
Dabei wird ingoriert, dass in europäischen Ländern das Selbstverstädnnis einer Organisation als Religionsgemeinschaft keineswegs ausschlaggebend für die staatliche Beurteilung ist.
So hat das Bundesverfassungsgericht (1 BvR 632/92 Nichtannahmebeschluß vom 28.8.92 - Scientology - Bundesverfassungsgericht-1BvR632-92.htm) entschieden, es komme nicht allein auf das Selbstverständnis an:
"Allein die Behauptung und das Selbstverständnis, eine Gemeinschaft
bekenne sich zu einer Religion und sei eine Religionsgemeinschaft,
rechtfertigen die Berufung auf diese Freiheitsgewährleistung nicht, vielmehr muß es sich auch tatsächlich, nach geistigem Gehalt und
äußerem Erscheinungsbild, um eine Religion und eine Religionsgemeinschaft handeln".
Wegen solcher Auswirkungen befasst sich auch der Verfassungsschutz Baden-Württemberg mit diesem Thema und hat 2004 eine Broschüre herausgegeben:
Der Steuerprozess um das Schulgeld
In den USA hat die Vereinbarung zwischen IRS und der Scientology-Organisation offenbar zur Folge, dass Scientology-Anhänger auch die Kosten für die Privatschulen ihrer Kinder von der Steuer abziehen können.
Jetzt verlangen jüdische
Eltern Gleichbehandlung, nämlich ebenfalls Steuerbefreiung für
die Kosten des Besuchs einer jüdischen Privatschule.
Gewinnen sie ihren Prozess in Los Angeles, hätte das weitreichende Folgen.
Steuerberater und Rechtsanwälte beobachten deshalb den Prozess.
Jetzt hat auch ein Juristen-Fachblatt darüber berichtet, The National Law Journal vom 29.11.2004.
Es geht letztlich um die Frage, ob alle sich wegen des Gleichheitsgrundsatzes auf die "private" Verienbarung zwischen dem IRS und der Scientology-Organisation berufen können oder ob für den Rest der Steuerzahler nach wie vor das normale Gesetz gilt.
Es geht dabei auch um verfassungsrechtliche
Insbesondere um den Grundsatz der Trennung von Kirche und Staat.
Wenn nämlich - so eine Anwältin aus Los Angeles - Schuldgeld von der Steuer abgesetzt werden kann, dann würde das bedeuten, dass alle Steuerzahler eine Religion finanziell unterstützen.
Die Kläger berufen sich nicht nur auf die Vereinbarung zwischen dem IRS und der Scientology-Organisation, sondern auch auf eine Gesetzesänderung von 1993. Demnach seit die Liste der abzugsfähigen Tatbestände verlängertw orden. Zum Beispiel müsse das Ticket zu einer Wohltätigkeitsveranstaltung um die Kosten für das Essen verrringert werden, der Rest sei abzugsfähig. Entsprechend müssten die Kosten der Privatschule um die Kosten einer öffentlichen Schule reduziert werden, der Rest sei abzugsfähig.
Zweites Argument der Kläger:
Nach der Vereinbarung zwischen dem IRS und der Scientology-Organisation seien auch die Kosten für "Training und Auditing" von der Steuer absetzbar. Dabei handele es sich um eine Form der religiösen Ausbldung. Daraus folge, dass jede Art der religiösen Unterweisung absetzungsfähig sei.
Ein Richter stellte die Frage, ob "Scientologen das auserwählte Volk des Bundesfinanzamtes" sei, "the IRS's chosen people" (>>).
Der Kläger meint, dann müssten eben solche Kosten für alle Religionen absetzbar sein.
Ein Richter meint, unzulässige Steuervorteile könnten nicht auf alle angewandt werden.
|The National Law Journal
Scientology Settlement Puts IRS in a Kosher Pickle
Tax lawyers are watching a trial in Los Angeles that pits an orthodox Jewish family against the Internal Revenue Service over whether tuition for religious education is deductible -- based in part on a "secret" settlement between the IRS and the Church of Scientology.
"It's not clear that [plaintiffs] Michael and Marla Sklar will win, but if they do, it may well mean that millions of families will be able to deduct some portion of private religious school education," said professor Evelyn Brody, a Chicago-Kent College of Law tax specialist. "It would force the IRS to deal with millions of dollars in new deductions and it would overwhelm them."
Elizabeth Pierson, a tax attorney with Los Angeles' Hoffman Sabban & Watenmaker, said the case has tax lawyers' attention. "The Sklars are trying to establish a brave new world where private compromises between the government and taxpayers can be relied on by unrelated taxpayers, not the norm," she said. "And it's a constitutional question of the separation of church and state, because, if religious education becomes deductible, it means that taxpayers are subsidizing religion."
The fight is over $3,200 in taxes Sklar saved by deducting about $15,000 in tuition for his children's religious education at an orthodox school in Los Angeles. Sklar v. Commissioner, 000395-01 (U.S. Tax Ct., L.A.). Michael Sklar, who is an accountant, sued the IRS over the same deduction in 1997 over his 1994 return and lost. The current suit is over his 1995 tax return.
IRS attorney Louis Jack said he is not allowed to comment on the case. But in his opening remarks, Jack said that case law is clear that tuition for religious schooling is not deductible.
The Sklars have launched two arguments. First, according to Jeffrey Zuckerman, the family's attorney, Congress amended the tax code in 1993, adding intangible benefits from charitable donations to the list of things that are deductible. For example, a $125 ticket to a fund-raising dinner is reduced by the value of the dinner, and the difference can be deducted.
Sklar argues that part of the tuition, the excess beyond the actual cost of private secular education, which is considered tangible, can be deducted.
Second, the IRS struck a 1993 deal with the Church of Scientology that allows Scientologists to deduct the cost of training and auditing, a form of religious education, which means that all religious tuition should be deductible. Auditing refers to one-to-one encounters with church officials, through which the student becomes aware of his or her spiritual dimension. Training refers to doctrine classes, according to the U.S. Supreme Court opinion, Hernandez v. Commissioner, 490 U.S. 680 (1989). The settlement, which came after the 1993 opinion, ended a battle between the IRS and the church that began in the 1960s when Scientologists lost their IRS standing as a church.
"The IRS has publicly called them a church and described training and auditing as deductible," said Zuckerman, an antitrust and labor lawyer with the Washington, D.C., office of New York's Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle. "That recognition should be extended to all religions, and it is discrimination not to."
Brody, who serves on the American Bar Association Tax Committee, said the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has already ruled on the disparate treatment argument. "They said it doesn't matter how the Scientologists are treated, and, anyway, the Scientologists shouldn't have gotten what they did," Brody said. "That's why we're all watching the case -- we've been expecting it." He added, "When the IRS settled with the Scientologists, after they'd beaten them, we knew deductions for tuition would come into question."
If the Sklars prevail, it will drive the issue back to Congress, according to Gail Richmond, a professor of law and associate dean at the Shepard Broad Law Center of Nova Southeastern University in Florida. "It will force the IRS to come up with a calculation and the next fight will be over where that line is," she said.
|New York Sun 8.11.2004
Scientologist Tax Trial
to Open Today
SAN FRANCISCO - A California accountant who sends his children to Orthodox Jewish schools is to appear in federal court this morning to attempt to force the Internal Revenue Service to grant him the same tax deduction for religious instruction that it accords to members of the Church of Scientology.
The trial, which is scheduled to open today in Tax Court in Los Angeles, is the second round in Michael Sklar's long running legal battle with the IRS over his claim that part of the tuition he pays for his children at Jewish day schools should be tax deductible.
"I've been hanging on for a decade because I feel it's imperative that this case be fought," Mr. Sklar said in an interview yesterday. "This kind of basically religious favoritism is very damaging, certainly for Jewish people, but probably for all people in the United States."
The case stems from an agreement the IRS reached in 1993 with the Church of Scientology, a religion founded in the early 1950s by a science-fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard. The settlement ended what the Scientologists described as a "war" between the federal government and their church.
Under the pact, the IRS granted tax-exempt status to a variety of Scientology entities, while the church paid $12.5 million to the government and agreed to financial controls to ensure that its leaders were not unduly enriched by payments from Scientology followers.
What troubles Mr. Sklar is a part of the settlement that allows Scientology members to deduct from their taxes amounts they pay for religious training or "auditing," a practice in which Scientologists purge themselves of troublesome thoughts by holding a device that measures the body's electrical impulses.
The IRS and the church agreed to keep the details of their deal secret, but Mr. Sklar noticed in late 1993 that the tax agency suddenly withdrew, without explanation, a written ruling that had barred Scientologists from taking deductions for religious programs. Mr. Sklar viewed the government's decision as conferring a benefit on Scientologists that is not extended to members of other religions.
"I see no reason why we should be any different. It's not like they're any more religious than we are," said the 45-year-old accountant, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and six children.
In early 1994, Mr. Sklar filed for tax deductions for 55% of his tuition payments for the preceding three years. He said 55% represented the amount of time his children spent in Jewish religious studies at their schools.
After the IRS disallowed his deduction, Mr. Sklar filed a case in Tax Court in 1997. Appearing without a lawyer, he argued that the Constitution requires the government to treat members of all religions equally. "You just can't do it for one group and not do it for another," he said.
The Tax Court rejected Mr. Sklar's arguments, and he appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. A Washington-based lawyer, Jeffrey Zuckerman, who is also an Orthodox Jew, agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis.
In 2002, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit turned down Mr. Sklar's appeal. The court sharply criticized the IRS for its secrecy and suggested that the deduction for Scientologists was probably unconstitutional. However, the judges said the accountant had not shown that the religious instruction his children receive in school was sufficiently similar to the kinds of training courses that Scientologists are allowed to deduct.
"Why is Scientology training different from all other religious training?" Judge Barry Silverman wrote in a concurring opinion that evoked the history lesson that accompanies a traditional Jewish seder. "We should decline the invitation to answer that question. The sole issue before us is whether the Sklars' claimed deduction is valid, not whether members of the Church of Scientology have become the IRS's chosen people."
The judges also suggested that some facts in the case were murky. For instance, it was not clear whether Mr. Sklar had paid more in tuition than he would have if he sent his children to secular schools.
A lawyer for the Church of Scientology, Monique Yingling, denied that the 1993 agreement entitles the religion to special treatment.
"The IRS agreed to treat the Church of Scientology like all other religions are treated. The Church of Scientology does not get a deduction for parochial school education and that's what the Sklars are trying to get," she said in an interview Friday.
Beginning today, Mr. Sklar will get another shot at proving his case, as the Tax Court considers whether to uphold a $15,000 deduction for tuition that the accountant took on his 1995 return.
The IRS declined to discuss the dispute, citing taxpayer privacy laws, but Mr. Zuckerman said the agency has argued that the religious studies and secular classes at Jewish schools are so intertwined that it is impossible to determine what portion of the tuition goes toward religious education.
Mr. Zuckerman said that at least half the classes on any given day are religious. "There is truly strict separation. There's no overlap," he said.
While donations to charitable and religious organizations are tax deductible, tuition at religious schools generally is not. If the IRS considers a payment to be a quid pro quo, then a taxpayer can only deduct that portion of a donation that exceeds the value of the goods or services provided in return. However, the tax agency has allowed taxpayers who get intangible religious benefits from their gifts to deduct them in their entirety.
"If you're Jewish and you pay a synagogue so you can have a seat for High Holidays, it's technically a quid pro quo, but the IRS allows it to be deducted," Mr. Zuckerman said. He said Mormon tithes and Catholic pew rents are also fully deductible, even though the donors get some benefit from their gifts.
Mr. Zuckerman said that if his client prevails, purely religious programs for adults would also become deductible.
"Could Madonna deduct the cost of her Kabbalah class?" he asked. "Under our argument, the answer would be yes."
Jewish groups are divided about whether taxpayers should be able to deduct tuition at religious schools.
"We are certainly in favor of the deductibility of a portion of parochial school expenses and, if the court would go that way, we'd be very pleased," the director of public policy for the Orthodox Union, Nathan Diament, said. "People who use parochial schools are paying the same property taxes as everyone else that supports the public school system."
Mr. Diament said Mr. Sklar will be "the hero of many people if he's successful." However, Mr. Diament said the accountant's chances of prevailing are "rather slim."
An attorney with the American Jewish Congress, Marc Stern, said his group opposes such a deduction because of fears that it will drain revenue from public schools and because the benefits would accrue primarily to families with higher incomes. "It's not good public policy," he said.
Mr. Stern noted that Congress has considered and rejected proposals to create tax deductions for private and parochial school tuition. "It would be, I think, out of place for the court to create a social program the Congress hasn't mustered the political will to enact," he said.
For his part, Mr. Sklar said he bears no ill will toward the Scientologists. "The only anger I feel is toward the government," he said.
|New York Times 24.3.2004
Court Case Poses Challenge
to Scientology Tax Break
LOS ANGELES, March 21 - A trial is to begin here on Wednesday morning to determine whether a Jewish couple can deduct the cost of religious education for their five children, a tax benefit they say the federal government has granted to members of just one religion, the Church of Scientology.
The potential ramifications are huge, for a ruling in favor of the couple could affect the millions of Americans who send their children to religious schools of all types. At stake is whether people of all religions can deduct the cost of religious education as a charitable gift, as Scientologists are allowed to do under an officially secret 1993 agreement with the Internal Revenue Service.
That agreement came despite a 1989 Supreme Court ruling denying tax deductions for money paid in fees set by the Church of Scientology for its "auditing" and "training" services. The Supreme Court decision said the money did not qualify for the charitable gift deduction because it involved a fixed price and was akin to a fee for a service.
The couple, Michael and Marla Sklar of Los Angeles, originally took the I.R.S. to court after being denied $2,080 in 1993 deductions for religious education for their children. They lost that case, in which Mr. Sklar, a tax accountant, represented himself at trial. The couple appealed, and three judges on the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled against them two years ago. But one judge also took the unusual step of suggesting further litigation that would better define the issues.
The judges in the original Sklar case said "it appears to be true" that Scientology - founded by L. Ron Hubbard, the science fiction writer, in the 1950's - received preferential tax treatment in violation of the First Amendment.
"Why is Scientology training different from all other religious training?" Judge Barry D. Silverman wrote in his opinion, adding that the question would not be answered just then because the court was not faced with the question of whether "members of the Church of Scientology have become the I.R.S.'s chosen people." Judge Silverman then recommended litigation to address whether the government is improperly favoring one religion.
"If the I.R.S. does in fact give preferential treatment to members of the Church of Scientology - allowing them a special right to claim deductions that are contrary to law and disallowed to everybody else - then the proper course of action is a lawsuit to put a stop to that policy," Judge Silverman wrote.
In this second trial, also against the I.R.S. and involving $3,209 of taxes for 1995, the Sklars are represented by Jeffrey I. Zuckerman of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle in Washington, who is serving pro bono.
The chief tax lawyer for the Church of Scientology, Monique E. Yingling, said the Sklar lawsuit was baseless. She said that until the 1993 agreement, Scientologists were discriminated against by not being allowed to take charitable deductions.
"Scientologists now are being treated the same as everyone else, Catholics, Mormons, Hindus," she said, her list of religions continuing.
"Auditing and training are both Scientology religious services," Ms. Yingling said, that members "participate in to advance in Scientology."
Mr. Sklar, though, said he saw no difference between the services that Scientologists cite for their deductions and the religious training his children receive at two Hebrew schools in Los Angeles.
On their tax returns, the Sklars claimed charitable deductions equal to the portion of the Hebrew school tuition that covers the cost of religious education. He said that were he a Scientologist, it was clear he could deduct these sums.
When the Sklars tried to take the deduction, the I.R.S. sent them letters laying out the terms for Scientologists to take such deductions. The I.R.S. then denied the deductions because the Sklars did not provide receipts from the Church of Scientology.
Other than the Sklars, the only known legal challenge to the I.R.S. agreement with the Scientologists was made by the nonprofit publisher of Tax Notes magazine. It tried unsuccessfully to get a judge to make the agreement public. (Copies of what seem to be the agreement were leaked several years ago.)
"The reason I got started on this course of action was I felt that there was a precedent being set that is extremely dangerous," Mr. Sklar said. "If the government is allowed to do this unchallenged, it means you have a state-favored religion, and that has never fared well for the Jews."
Mr. Sklar said that after he pressed his claim for a charitable deduction, the I.R.S. audited him and eight clients. "I think the I.R.S. was harassing me because before I had maybe one audit in two years," he said.
A subpoena for the secret agreement with the Scientologists has been quashed at the request of the Church of Scientology and the I.R.S. A fight over access to that agreement is likely to be a crucial issue on appeal, which seems certain regardless of how the trial judge rules.
Mr. Sklar said that after more than a decade of tax breaks for Scientologists, he believed that the only proper course for the courts was to allow people of all faiths to take charitable deductions for the costs of religious education and training.
But Judge Silverman, who had urged litigation to settle the issue, took a different approach in his opinion two years ago.
"The remedy," he wrote, "is not to require the I.R.S. to let others claim the improper deduction."