The Supreme Court has decided Scie ntology is a religion, or more exactly, when its adherents gather in a chapel, they do so for the purposes of religious worship. This will in the short term permit Scie ntologists to get married in their chapels and clearly opens up the possibility of them getting the same tax breaks as Quakers, Anglicans and Jews, (say).
Lots of people have rushed in on the basis that Scie ntology is bad or its views self evidently ludicrous. This is an awkward basis on which to run a country, I could name several doctrines which I consider so self evidently wrong, the groups holding them should be listed as comedy dance troupes rather than faith groups. But a free society needs to move on beyond what I happen to think. Several countries appear to hold the view that Scie ntology is a fraud, but all round the world, people are persecuted, sometimes for what appear quite minor differences from the orthodoxy.
The fact is defining religion on the basis that one has to believe in a Supreme Being is self evidently wrong, from any sort of philosophical viewpoint. It was wrong even in 1970, when the courts apparently decided that Buddhism, Jainism and arguably Taoism were ‘not religions’. It is further complicated by groups which contain individuals who don’t and individuals who do, individuals bound not by a creedal statement on metaphysics but ways of working and worshipping together. (Wiccans for example.)
The argument then switches to, what religious activities deserve tax relief, those which create community, serve the needy, add beauty, work for reconciliation? Or the mere doing of ‘religious’ stuff in a ‘religious’ place? Is the existence of closed orders of nuns praying for the world, a public benefit?
Venerating the views of L Ron H may push our pluralistic society to think a little harder about what tax reliefs are for.