The Supreme Court rescued the Internal Revenue Service from a sea of paper work yesterday by making it easier for the agency to withhold information sought under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a law aimed at curtailing government secrecy.

The court ruled, 6 to 0, that the IRS may refuse to disclose certain records even if it were possible to delete everything linking those records to individual taxpayers.

Led by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the court said the FOIA does not require the IRS to make such deletions so certain documents can be released on request.

The Church of Scientology, which has had several long-running battles with the IRS, had argued that the agency must disclose documents when identification of an individual taxpayer can be erased.

In 1980, Scientologists filed an FOIA request for all IRS documents mentioning the church, founder L. Ron Hubbard and his wife, Mary Sue Hubbard.

"This ruling means the {IRS} can turn down just about any FOIA request," said Paul B. Stephan III, a University of Virginia law professor who studied the case.

He added that the agency "has one of the best records among government agencies for voluntarily making available much of its work product."

"This ruling saves them from a lot of paper work," he said. "The files on 100 million taxpayers a year are voluminous."

The decision upheld a federal appeals court ruling written by Antonin Scalia in May 1986, a month before President Reagan nominated him to the Supreme Court. Scalia did not participate in Tuesday's ruling. Justice William J. Brennan also did not take part, for unannounced reasons.

The 1966 law generally makes government records more accessible to private citizens but contains numerous exceptions. For example, it assures confidentiality of one's tax returns and "return information," internal IRS documents such as audit reports.

But a 1976 amendment said "return information" is not to include "data in a form which cannot be associated with, or otherwise identify, directly or indirectly, a particular taxpayer."

Scalia had ruled that the disputed amendment requires disclosure only of "reformulated" information, that taken out of IRS documents and compiled in a new form. Other federal appeals courts had interpreted the amendment in varying ways.