UK Charity Commission December 9 1999
By Chris Owen
The Charity Commission (UK) this afternoon rejected the Church of Scientology's attempt to become a registered charity in the UK. The application for charitable status was submitted just over two years ago and has since been subjected to an unusually lengthy review. Part of the delay was undoubtedly because the Commission has received and had to review a great many pro- and anti- Scientology statements.
Scientology claimed that it promoted "moral or spiritual welfare or improvement of the community." But the antis have undoubtedly won the day. Despite taking what it calls "a broad and flexible" view of the law, the Commission has concluded that Scientology does not operate for the "public benefit".
The decision does not greatly affect the financial standing of Scientology in the UK, which in England operates via a tax-exempt South Australian corporation, COSRECI (Church of Scientology Religious Education College Incorporated). However, it will be a major blow to the Church, which has long sought to gain the respectability that comes with charitable status.
Scientology has already run vitriolic attacks against the Charity Commission in its magazine "Freedom", arguing that the Commission's decision not to grant charitable status to a pagan organisation shows it to have an anti-religious bias. This line will doubtless be repeated and amplified, and a major "Freedom" campaign is expected. The Commission may well also face legal action unless Crown Immunity can somehow be invoked.
To put the Commission's decision in perspective, it normally accepts the vast majority of applications (currently running at 8,500 per year); it does not keep consolidated figures for rejections but the total is believed to be low. The rejection of the bid shows clearly that the Commission was strongly unconvinced by Scientology's arguments.
[From reportage in the Evening Standard, London, 9 Dec 1999; The Economist, 3 Dec 1999; Freedom magazine, undated but copyrighted 1998. Although I'm a civil servant, I have no connection with the Charity Commission and don't speak for them in any capacity whatsoever.]