Scientology is a religion, rules Supreme Court

A woman who wants to marry in a Church of Scientology chapel has won a battle in the UK's highest court

The Telegraph, UK/December 11, 2013

By Alice Philipson

Scientology is a religion, the UK's highest court has ruled, after a woman won a battle to marry in a Church of Scientology chapel.

Scientologist Louisa Hodkin took her fight to the Supreme Court after a High Court judge ruled last year that services run by Scientologists were not "acts of worship".

But five Supreme Court justices ruled in her favour on Wednesday, announcing that the Scientology church was a "place of meeting for religious worship".

Miss Hodkin wants to marry fiancé Alessandro Calcioli in a Church of Scientology chapel in central London.

She took legal action after the registrar general of births, deaths and marriages refused to register the London Church Chapel for the solemnisation of marriages under the 1855 Places of Worship Registration Act – because it was not a place for "religious worship".

Supreme Court justices said religion should not be confined to faiths involving a "supreme deity".

They said the Church of Scientology held religious services, therefore its church was a "place of meeting for religious worship".

Miss Hodkin said: "I am really excited. I'm really glad we are finally being treated equally and can now get married in our church."

She said they hoped to get married in the next few months but have yet to set a date.

Mr Calcioli added: "I think the court's definition of religion is excellent. I think it's what most people today would understand 'religion' to be. I'm ecstatic."

The justices unanimously allowed Miss Hodkin's appeal against the High Court ruling.

In 1970 the Church of Scientology launched a similar case.

Then the Court of Appeal ruled that Scientology did not involve religious worship because there was no "veneration of God or of a Supreme Being".

Miss Hodkin lost her High Court fight in December 2012 when Mr Justice Ouseley said he was bound by the 1970 Court of Appeal decision and therefore had to dismiss her challenge.

But he said Supreme Court justices should consider the question of whether Scientologists worshipped.

He said that because the Supreme Court was a more senior court than the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court justices might take a different view.

Miss Hodkin argued that the 1970 ruling should not be binding because Scientologist beliefs and services had evolved during the past four decades.

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

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles had welcomed Mr Justice Ouseley's ruling.

Mr 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 said taxpayers would not want "such a controversial organisation" to get "special" treatment.

Local government minister Brandon Lewis said his department would be taking legal advice following the ruling.

He said: "I am very concerned about this ruling, and its implications for business rates.

"In the face of concerns raised by Conservatives in Opposition, Labour ministers told Parliament during the passage of the Equalities Bill that Scientology would continue to fall outside the religious exemption for business rates. But we now discover Scientology may be eligible for rate relief and that the taxpayer will have to pick up the bill, all thanks to Harriet Harman and Labour's flawed laws.

"Hard-pressed taxpayers will wonder why Scientology premises should now be given tax cuts when local firms have to pay their fair share.

"We will review the Court's verdict and discuss this with our legal advisers before deciding the next steps. However, it will remain the case that premises which are not genuinely open to the public will not qualify for tax relief."

Miss Hodkin added: "My fiancé and I have always believed in the fairness of the British legal process.

"It's been a long and demanding journey, but the Supreme Court's decision today has made it all worthwhile.

"We are really excited that we can now get married, and thank our family and friends for all of their patience and support."

Her solicitor Paul Hewitt, a partner at law firm Withers, said: "The Supreme Court's judgment is a victory for the equal treatment of religions in the modern world.

"We are delighted at the outcome – it always felt wrong that Louisa was denied the simple right, afforded to members of other religions, to enjoy a legal marriage ceremony in her own Church."

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