Monday, 16 November 2009

Should Buddhists be Paying Taxes?

I recently saw a newspaper story about new laws being introduced by Harriet Harman as part of the Equality Bill, presently before Parliament, which will force councils to exempt the Church of Scientology from council tax and business rates, allowing the controversial ‘religion’ to receive the same tax breaks that the Church of England and other organised religions currently enjoy.

Now here's the point, the current exemptions apply to "Places of Worship" as defined by "The Places of Worship Registration Act 1855" which provides for places of meeting for religious worship to be certified to the Registrar General but does not apply to the established Church. When considering the registration of a building which has been certified as a place of religious worship, the Registrar General applies the judgment by the Court of Appeal in the Segerdal case. The main finding in the judgment is that the words ‘place of meeting for religious worship’ in the Act connote a place of which the principal use is for people to come together as a congregation to worship God or do reverence to a deity. Apart from the Church of England and the Church in Wales, any faith or denomination which meets these criteria would be capable of recognition under the 1855 Act.

Among the "faiths or denominations" listed are "Buddhists of the New Kadampa Traditional", "Friends of Western Buddhist order", "Zen Buddhists" and "Buddhists". Well, to simplify, they are all Buddhists and as such don't worship a god! Buddhism is non-theistic if not outright atheist. So maybe we've been getting away with it all these years. The Equality Bill calls on councils to protect “any religious or philosophical belief” from local tax increases.

A new “public-sector equality duty” not only bans all authorities from discriminating against any philosophical belief but forces them to “advance equality” of those who hold philosophical beliefs. So that's us covered, at last!

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