Finally, Scientology is convicted in France for its crimes: The courts say it's just a good old con game. The French courts saw through their religion ruse. According to the French court's verdict, they're guilty of organized fraud, and the court fined the church $600,000 for its criminal activities. For the first time, the church itself (in addition to a number of individuals) has been convicted of a crime.
This was only possible in France because Scientology couldn't hide behind the special protection that religion gets in the United States. Here, the church can claim all sorts of immunity from discovery, and when prosecutors do go after the Scientologists, they scream persecution. But in France, Scientology is classified as a cult, not a religion.
This conviction leads me to wonder: Why should churches get any special consideration under United States law? If the Constitution says Congress shall make "no law" about religion, doesn't that mean churches have to be treated just like any other nonprofit organization?
Let's say that some other non-profit like Greenpeace, or maybe Mother's Against Drunk Driving, were tricking their members into turning over thousands of dollars to participate in purification rituals and to buy vitamins that can be bought over the counter for a few dollars. Wouldn't we expect the government to press charges? Why is it that by claiming to be a religion, the criminal nature of such fraudulent activities evaporates?
If religion is to be truly free of government interference, then they should be subject to the exact same laws as any other organization. Their books should be subject to auditing, their communications should be subject to discovery during legal proceedings, and their leaders should be accountable in the eyes of the law.
After all, if the services they offer are legitimate, they shouldn't be afraid of scrutiny. Only hucksters need to hide.