Scientology now a “religion” in England

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that Scientology is a religion.

The 11 Dec 2013 ruling reverses over 30 years of British law, and will open the door for the Florida-based organization to take advantage of the country’s charitable laws for the administration of its finances and property. In 1970 the Court of Appeal held the Church of Scientology did not pass the legal test for a faith group as defined by law. Germany and other European countries presently treat Scientology as a business, and in the UK the Florida-based organization has been taxed as a commercial enterprise. The 11 Dec 2013 ruling reverses

In its decision handed down this week in R (Hodkin & Anor) v Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages [2013] UKSC 77, the court heard an appeal brought by a member of the Church of Scientology and the registered owner of a property used by the organization that saw a review of a decision denying the 31 May 2011 application to record the church under section 2 of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 (“PWRA”).

The appellant, Louisa Hodkin, and her fiancé, Alessandro Calcioli, are members of the Church of Scientology and wish to be married on the premises on Queen Victoria Street property in London.

English law provides that every “place of meeting for religious worship” may be certified by the government, which then permits the building to be used as a place for the solemnization of marriages under the Marriage Act 1949.

In its initial ruling, the registrar general declined to accept the application citing  the Court of Appeal’s 1970 judgment in R v Registrar General, ex parte Segerdal [1970] 2 QB 697. The court in Segerdal declined to accept the application of a Scientology group to hold weddings at their headquarters in London as Scientology did not involve “religious worship” since it did not involve “reverence or veneration of God or of a Supreme Being.”

The Court of Appeal upheld the registrar general’s decision, prompting the appeal to the Supreme Court.

Writing for the court, Lord Toulson, held the first question it must decide was whether Scientology was a religion. The court noted that Scientologists did not believe in a supreme being, but such a test was an inappropriate way of deciding what was a faith for it would exclude recognized faiths such as Buddhism and Jainism from the protections of British law. The court added it also would be inappropriate for the registrar general to decide whether the law recognized religions that did not believe in a god.

The court held that religion was characterized as a belief system going beyond sensory perception or scientific data, held by a group of adherents, which claims to explain mankind’s place in the universe and relationship with the infinite, and to teach its adherents how they are to live their lives in conformity with the spiritual understanding associated with the belief system, page 57 of its ruling.

Using this standard, Scientology was “clearly” a religion, the court held and its property was a “place of meeting for religious worship.”

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