Sham or shame?

  (29 May 13)
  by Greg Spearritt

The use by anti-vaccination advocates of a reportedly “sham” religious group raises questions beyond the debate over vaccination.

The Church of Conscious Living (CCL) was apparently set up at least in part to allow parents who are anti-vaccination to claim religious exemption from government regulations. However, belief in a “Higher Power” is proclaimed on the Church’s website, as are “sacred laws” for adherents to follow. The CCL therefore meets the two criteria required by Australian law for a religious group: belief in a Supernatural Being, Thing or Principle, and the acceptance of canons of conduct in order to give effect to that belief.

Of course, being a religious group has a few well-known advantages in addition to an ability to claim conscientious objection, including exemption from income and capital gains tax provisions and access to fringe benefit tax rebates.

So is the CCL a “sham”, as News Ltd suggests? It seems hard to argue that case, given that it jumps through the same basic hoops as accepted religious groups like Scientology and The Free Daist Communion of Australia (both actually named as legitimate in Australian tax guides). Certainly it’s newer, but there’s no ‘test of time’ provision in Australian law.

Is it a ‘shame’ that just about anyone with enough gall can start a religious group and be recognised in Australia for tax (and other) purposes? Now that’s another question…

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