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Scientologist loses High Court bid to get married in 'church' chapel as judge rules it is not a place of worship

Scientologist loses High Court bid to get married in 'church' chapel as judge rules it is not a place of worship

Mail, UK/December 20, 2012

A bride-to-be has lost her fight to marry in a Scientology 'church' after High Court judges ruled that it is not a legal place to wed.

Louisa Hodkin had battled to overturn a refusal by the registrar general of births, deaths and marriages in England and Wales to register the chapel for the solemnisation of marriages on the grounds that it was not 'a place of meeting for religious worship'.

The 24-year-old had wanted to wed fellow Scientologist fiance Alessandro Calcioli in a chapel at the church's London base in Queen Victoria Street, central London.

She had argued that the decision not to allow her to hold a ceremony there was unlawful religious discrimination.

But Mr Justice Ouseley backed the registrar's decision and dismissed her case.

The judge was backed today by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles who welcomed the decision.

The court had been told at an earlier hearing that the chapel would have to be legally certified as a meeting place for religious worship to enable a marriage to take place there.

Miss Hodkin's lawyer Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC said that the bride-to-be's brother David had been married in a religious ceremony at a Church of Scientology in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2007 and that she and her fiance had wanted a similar ceremony.

But a casework manager for the registrar general said such a wedding could not be recognised because of the 1970 case of Segerdal in the Court of Appeal.

Judges in that case ruled that another Scientology chapel was not a meeting place for religious worship because its services involved 'instructions in the tenets of a philosophy concerned with man' and were not concerned with religious worship.

Mr Justice Ouseley said today that he felt bound by that Court of Appeal ruling.

He said in a written ruling: 'In my judgment there has been no significant change in the beliefs of Scientologists or in their services since (that) decision.'

'(That ruling), in the absence of a significant change in the way Scientologists worship, still binds me to hold that they do not worship.'

But he said the issue should be analysed by the Supreme Court - the highest court in the UK.

Miss Hodkins and Mr Calcioli, both volunteers at the church, had appealed the decision to block the wedding in July last year.

The case was of particular importance to the Church of Scientology and its followers as several similar cases have been turned down in court in the past.

The case was of particular importance to the Church of Scientology and its followers as several similar cases have been turned down in court in the past.

Miss Hodkin argued that the 1970 ruling should not be binding on any court because Scientologist beliefs and services had evolved during the past 42 years.

She said services were 'ones of religious worship' and likened Scientology to Buddhism and Jainism.

But she said after the case that she was pleased that the Supreme Court may take a different view of her case.

She said: 'I knew I would have to be strong and patient given the current law.

'I am delighted that the court has granted me the opportunity to ask the Supreme Court to hear my case.

'I hope that the court allows me to marry in my own church, surrounded by my family and friends, which means everything to me.'

Her solicitor, Paul Hewitt, who works for law firm Withers, said: 'It has always felt wrong that, simply because she is a member of the Church of Scientology, Louisa has been denied the right given to Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains and other faiths to have a legal marriage ceremony in accordance with her own religious beliefs and in her own church.'

He added: 'Louisa is determined to see the process through to achieve this basic right.'

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said the Church of Scientology might have been entitled to 'tax breaks' - because of rules governing places of public worship - had a decision gone in its favour.

He welcomed Mr Justice Ouseley’s ruling and said taxpayers would not want 'such a controversial organisation' to get 'special' treatment.

Officials at the Department for Communities and Local Government said places of public worship could be exempted from paying business tax rates.

And Mr Pickles, Conservative MP for Brentwood and Ongar, added: 'I welcome this ruling. Tolerance and freedom of expression are important British values, but this does not mean that the likes of Church of Scientology deserve favoured tax treatment.

He said the Church of Scientology was not a registered charity and went on: 'The majority of the public would not want their own council to be giving special tax breaks to such a controversial organisation.'

Scientology is a controversial religious belief system that teaches that people are immortal beings who have forgotten their true nature.

Famous Scientologists include actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

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