Supreme Court judges allow Scientology wedding
- 11 December 2013
- From the section UK
A woman who wants to marry in a Church of Scientology chapel has won her Supreme Court challenge.
Five Supreme Court judges ruled the church was a "place of meeting for religious worship".
Louisa Hodkin launched legal action after officials refused to register a Church of Scientology chapel in central London as a place for marriage.
This was due to a 1970 High Court ruling which said Scientology services were not "acts of worship".
Evolution of beliefs
In their unanimous decision, the Supreme Court justices said that the 1970 ruling's definition of religious worship as involving "reverence or veneration of God or of a supreme being" was out of date.
"Religion should not be confined to religions which recognise a supreme deity," wrote Lord Toulson, giving the judgment.
"To do so would be a form of religious discrimination unacceptable in today's society," he wrote, noting that the criteria would exclude Buddhism, among other faiths.
The court said it was not the job of the Registrar General of Births, Marriages and Deaths to venture into "fine theological or liturgical niceties" and declared that the Scientology chapel should be recorded as a place for the solemnisation of marriages.
Miss Hodkin says she and fiance Alessandro Calcioli hope to marry in the next few months but are yet to set a date.
"It's been a long and demanding journey, but the Supreme Court's decision 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," she said.
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."
Miss Hodkin's solicitor Paul Hewitt, a partner at law firm Withers, said the judgment was 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," he said.
The court heard that Miss Hodkin's brother, David, was married at the Church of Scientology in Edinburgh, a valid marriage under Scots law because the registrar general for Scotland authorises ministers of Scientology to perform marriages in Scotland.
Miss Hodkin had argued that the 1970 ruling should not be binding because Scientologist beliefs and services had evolved and likened it to Buddhism and Jainism.
Local government minister Brandon Lewis said he was "very concerned" about the ruling and its implications for business rates.
He said Labour ministers had promised during the passing on the Equalities Bill before the 2010 General Election that Scientology would continue to fall outside the religious exemption for business rates - but now could be eligible for rate relief.
"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."
According to its official website, Scientology is "a religion that offers a precise path leading to a complete and certain understanding of one's true spiritual nature and one's relationship to self, family, groups, mankind, all life forms, the material universe, the spiritual universe and the Supreme Being".
It says Scientology is not a "dogmatic religion in which one is asked to accept anything on faith alone" and the ultimate goal is "true spiritual enlightenment and freedom for all".