Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Jewish Couple Back in Tax Court Seeking to Deduct Their Children's Tuition Under Scientology Precedent
A lawyer for an Orthodox Jewish couple claimed Monday that the Internal Revenue Service has violated the First Amendment by refusing to allow tax deductions for their children's religious schooling. The IRS should allow the deductions because it permits members of the Church of Scientology to write off the cost of spiritual counseling sessions, attorney Jeffrey Zuckerman said during the first day of a non-jury trial in U.S. Tax Court before Judge John O. Colvin. The First Amendment prohibits the IRS from discriminating on the basis of religion, Zuckerman said.
Michael and Marla Sklar of Los Angeles brought the lawsuit after the IRS ruled their deductions were invalid because Jewish school tuition was considered payment for a service, not a charitable contribution. Louis B. Jack, an attorney for the IRS, said during his opening statement that a ruling in the Sklars' favor would lead "millions of Americans to start deducting religious school tuition."...
Zuckerman said that during the trial he would show the similarities between Scientology's religious instruction and the religious instruction received by the Sklar children. "Every practitioner of every religion has the right to deduct religious instruction, if the Church of Scientology is allowed to do that," Zuckerman said. Colvin will not allow testimony in the case from the Church of Scientology, Zuckerman said. The secret agreement between the IRS and Scientology also may or may not be admitted as evidence. Zuckerman submitted a copy of the agreement, which had been leaked to the Wall Street Journal, but Jack objected. The judge said he would consider if it could be admitted into the court record.
In his concurring opinion, Judge Silverman of the Ninth Circuit noted:
Why is Scientology training different from all other religious training? 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....[U]nder both the tax code and Supreme Court precedent, the Sklars are not entitled to the charitable deduction they claimed. ... If the IRS 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 rightly disallowed to everybody else -- then the proper course of action is a lawsuit to stop to that policy. The remedy is not to require the IRS to let others claim the improper deduction, too.