The continued survival of Scientology — although not guaranteed at this point due to the ongoing efforts of Leah Remini — depends largely on its tax-exempt status, which it receives through its designation as a
cult church. Many people argue that the organization is run much more like a business, for members are required to pay for ridiculously expensive auditing procedures and course materials to climb the golden ladder. Well, President Trump (who obviously knows how a business runs, along with how to run one into the ground) reportedly believes that Scientology should lose its tax-exempt privileges. This news arrives courtesy of a longtime Trump aide, Lynne Patton, who contacted Remini (via Twitter DM) with Trump’s thoughts.
In turn, Remini shared this information with the Huffington Post. Patton said that she told Trump that Scientology should lose their status, and he “couldn’t agree more.” Patton also vowed that this would happen “in the next 4 years or I’ll die trying.” So, Trump must have a beef with Scientology, and it’s not hard to figure out why. The organization preys upon celebrity status and wealth, so it’s virtually guaranteed that Chairman of the Board David Miscavige has tried to recruit Trump over the decades. Trump probably (and wisely) didn’t want to hand over his money or independence, so he never fell for it.
However, can a POTUS order the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status for a church? Nope, neither Patton nor Trump has the authority to request such an audit, according to the IRS website:
“The IRS may begin a church tax inquiry only if an appropriate high-level Treasury official reasonably believes, on the basis of facts and circumstances recorded in writing, that an organization claiming to be a church or convention or association of churches may not qualify for exemption.”
That isn’t to say that Trump wouldn’t attempt to fire off a random executive order (he loves them), and no one knows whether Patton has contacted the IRS. Yet according to Larry Noble, who once worked as general counsel for the Federal Election Commission and spoke with HuffPo, Trump or Patton moving on the issue would be a serious misstep:
“For the White House or any administration official to try and influence who the IRS targets, for whatever reason, is wrong and could result in a violation of the law. The IRS must make these decisions independently without any influence by the White House or administration officials.”
For what it’s worth, the IRS has probed Scientology’s tax-exempt status on previous occasions. All of these attempts resulted in church members allegedly harassing, threatening, and stalking IRS employees before the U.S. government eventually struck a deal with Scientology for their status to remain intact. However, the last IRS probe of this nature happened in the 1990s, and nowadays — thanks to Remini and the Internet — people know a lot more about Scientology’s alleged mistreatment and abuse of members. So, could the IRS pull this off and avoid intimidation tactics in 2017? It’s a question worth asking.