The judgment in the case of
Church of Scientology
Hodkin and another (Appellants) v
Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Respondent) makes very
interesting reading. The case was heard before Lords Neuberger (President), Clarke, Wilson, Reed and Toulson. Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC represented
Church of Scientology
Hodkin and another; James Strachan QC represented
Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
Basically, Louisa Hodkin (the first appellant) and her fiancé, Alessandro Calcioli, want to be married in the church which they regularly attend at 146 Queen Victoria Street, London. The minister, Mrs Laura Wilks (the second appellant), would be pleased to perform the ceremony, but there was a legal obstacle. The church to which they belong is part of the Church of Scientology, and in 1970 the Court of Appeal held in a similar case that a different church within the Church of Scientology was not a “place of meeting for religious worship”.
Hitherto, religious worship has required an object of veneration to which the worshiper submitted. Their Lordships observe:
During the period from the reformation (sic) until the mid-eighteenth century, apart from occasional legislative interventions, it was left to the Church of England to lay down the rules about how marriages could be solemnised and what records were to be kept. The rules of the Church permitted extreme informality. A valid marriage could be contracted by simple words of consent in a church or elsewhere and with or without witnesses. The laxity of the law led to uncertainty and abuse until Lord Hardwicke LC persuaded Parliament to pass the Clandestine Marriages Act 1753 (26 Geo 2, c 33). The Act laid down procedures for the solemnisation and recording of marriages, over which the Church of England was given a virtual monopoly. There were exceptions for the marriages of Quakers and Jews, but others such as Roman Catholics could only be married in an Anglican church in accordance with the Anglican rite. Russell Sandberg aptly comments in Law and Religion (2011), p 25, that the law mirrored the approach of Parson Thwackum in Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, published in 1749:
“When I mention religion, I mean the Christian religion; and not
only the Christian religion, but the Protestant religion; and not only
the Protestant religion, but the Church of England.”
By degrees toleration, discrimination for other denominations and faiths was diminished. It has been maintained against Scientology - mainly because it is a weird cult invented in 1954 by a writer of science fiction.
A bit like the Jedi.
But Their Lordships have given ear to the pleadings of Mrs Wilks, who:
..has been a minister of the Church of Scientology since 1995 and the minister of the church at 146 Queen Victoria Street since 2006. She has conducted many congregational services in its chapel. In her statutory declaration she gives an account of the history, beliefs and practices of Scientology. Her evidence was not challenged and so may be taken as accurate for present purposes. In the judicial review proceedings the appellants also filed other evidence about the history, nature and practices of Scientology, but it is sufficient to refer to the evidence of Mrs Wilks, as the minister of the chapel which the appellants wish to have registered as a place of religious worship.
Basically, the doctrine of L Ron Hubbard is now a de facto religion because it "involves belief in and worship of a supernatural power, also known as God, the Supreme Being or the Creator."
A bit like the Jedi.
Moreover, "understanding of the Creator is attainable only through spiritual enlightenment, and the goal of Scientology is to help its members to obtain such enlightenment."
A bit like the Jedi.
Moreover still, "Scientology holds that the accomplishment of spiritual salvation is possible only through successive stages of enlightenment."
A bit like Buddhism.
And the Jedi.
Mrs Wilks told Their Lordships:
“Congregational services are an important feature in Scientology Churches. These are what occurs in our chapel. Such services are occasions where we commune with the Infinite and reach with reverence and respect towards the Supreme Being. They always include a prayer to the Supreme Being in which the whole congregation joins. There is also a reading of the Creed of the Church of Scientology, in which the pre-eminent position of God is affirmed. All congregational services are open to the public. Scientologists also perform naming ceremonies, funerals and weddings and these occasions are open to Scientologists, their families and the public.”
Their Creed goes:
We of the Church believe:That all men of whatever race, colour or Creed were created with equal rights;
That all men have inalienable rights to their own religious practices and their performance;
That all men have inalienable rights to think freely, to talk freely,
to write freely their own opinions and to counter or utter or write upon the opinions of others;
That all men have inalienable rights to the creation of their own kind;
That the souls of men have the rights of men;
And that no agency less than God has the power to suspend or set aside these rights, overtly or covertly.
And we of the Church believe:
That the spirit can be saved and
That the spirit alone may save or heal the body.
The have a 'prayer for total freedom', too. It goes:
May the author of the universe enable all men to reach an understanding of their spiritual nature.
May awareness and understanding of life expand, so that all may come to know the author of the universe.
And may others also reach this understanding which brings Total Freedom.
Freedom to use and understand man’s potential – a potential that is God-given and God-like.
And freedom to achieve that understanding and awareness that is Total Freedom.
May God let it be so.
That's nice, too.
And if the Jedi haven't yet quite got this far with their liturgy, His Grace will assist them in the compilation of their Book of Common Force
Their Lordships pondered theology:
We have had much discussion on the meaning of the word “religion” and of the word “worship”, taken separately, but I think we should take the combined phrase, “place of meeting for religious worship” as used in the statute of 1855. It connotes to my mind a place of which the principal use is as a place where people come together as a congregation or assembly to do reverence to God. It need not be the God which the Christians worship. It may be another God, or an unknown God, but it must be reverence to a deity. There may be exceptions. For instance, Buddhist temples are properly described as places of meeting for religious worship. But, apart from exceptional cases of that kind, it seems to me the governing idea behind the words “place of meeting for religious worship” is that it should be a place for the worship of God. I am sure that would be the meaning attached by those who framed this legislation of 1855.”
And they noted the words of Lord Denning, who commented:
“Turning to the creed of the Church of Scientology, I must say that it seems to me to be more a philosophy of the existence of man or of life, rather than a religion. Religious worship means reverence or veneration of God or of a Supreme Being. I do not find any such reverence or veneration in the creed of this church. … When I look through the ceremonies and the affidavits, I am left with the feeling that there is nothing in it of reverence for God or a deity, but simply instruction in a philosophy. There may be belief in a spirit of man, but there is no belief in a spirit of God.”
Lord Denning’s 1970 definition of religious worship carried within it an implicit theistic definition of religion. It was because the Church of Scientology’s services did not contain reverence for God, as Lord Denning understood the meaning of God, that he concluded that the services did not amount to religious worship.
Religion and English law meet today at various points. Charity law protects trusts as charitable if they are for the advancement of religion. Individuals have a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under article 9 of the European Convention. They enjoy the right not to be discriminated against on grounds of religion or belief under EU Council Directive 2000/78/EC and under domestic equality legislation. And so:
Unless there is some compelling contextual reason for holding otherwise, religion should not be confined to religions which recognise a supreme deity. First and foremost, to do so would be a form of religious discrimination unacceptable in today’s society. It would exclude Buddhism, along with other faiths such as Jainism, Taoism, Theosophy and part of Hinduism. The evidence in the present case shows that, among others, Jains, Theosophists and Buddhists have registered places of worship in England. Lord Denning in Segerdal  2 QB 697, 707 acknowledged that Buddhist temples were “properly described as places of meeting for religious worship” but he referred to them as “exceptional cases” without offering any further explanation. The need to make an exception for Buddhism (which has also been applied to Jainism and Theosophy), and the absence of a satisfactory explanation for it, are powerful indications that there is something unsound in the supposed general rule.
On the evidence of Mrs Wilks, Scientologists do believe in a supreme deity of a kind, but of an abstract and impersonal nature.
A bit like the Jedi.
Their Lordships continue:
Of the various attempts made to describe the characteristics of religion, I find most helpful that of Wilson and Deane JJ. For the purposes of PWRA, I would describe religion in summary as a spiritual or non-secular belief system, 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.
A bit like the Jedi.
His Grace has been warning about this for years (see HERE
, with the financial implications HERE
). The Treasury is right to be concerned. Conservative MP Brandon Lewis, Minister for Local Government, said yesterday:
"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 ."
And this is precisely what Labour told us during debate
on the Equality Bill:
Baroness Warsi (Shadow Minister): Perhaps the Minister can correct me if I am wrong, but it does appear at the moment that the Bill would undermine this court ruling, and set us in a situation whereby philosophical beliefs in fact would also be included under that exemption. The Bill and the Explanatory Notes state clearly that a philosophical belief is also included. Furthermore, the Bill imposes a duty on public authorities which prohibits discrimination, harassment or victimisation by people who supply services or perform public functions. The Explanatory Notes state that this also applies to revenue raising and collection. Can the Minister therefore clarify whether this will mean that those premises used for scientology meetings would undermine the 1970 definition so far that this would mean that the Church of England and the Church of Scientology would have to be treated in the same way for tax purposes? Does she agree that this sends out a difficult message to the public, because, at a time when families and local businesses are really struggling, as bills rocket, scientologists will soon be eligible for more tax breaks? Most people are in favour of freedom of expression, but it is difficult to maintain this when, at such a difficult time, it seems also to extend to tax breaks.
Baroness Thornton (Labour Govt Minister): ...As regards the issue of scientology and the question about building ratings-the noble Baroness asked a legitimate question-the Bill does not change the current situation. There is a statutory authority exception in relation to public functions which would cover tax relief on religious buildings. I hope that that satisfies the noble Baroness on that particular question.
Baroness Butler-Sloss (asking a question of the Labour Minister): For the past 30 years at least, the Church of Scientology has not been accepted as a church. I did not understand from the Minister's answer whether the way in which Clause 10 is set out will change that situation.
Baroness Thornton: No. I thought I made it clear in my remarks to the noble and learned Baroness that this does not change the situation."
The problem is that Government ministers will consult ad nauseam with lawyers and tax experts, not with theologians. And the resolution to this absurd ruling is acutely theological. The Church of Scientology is winning, and political action alone is difficult because of: i) equality legislation; ii) pervasive relativism; and iii) there being no agreed definition of religion.
Having got this far (for which, His Grace reiterates, the Church of Scientology picked up all the legal bills and commissioned all the PR at huge cost), they won't give up now. The only obstacle between this cult and taxpayer funding is the issue of whether or not their places of worship are open to the general public. So we will soon see them being as open to the world and his dog as much as mosques are: ie, entry only on compliance with strict adherence to certain religio-cultural observances. And since mosques are open to the public but free to discriminate inter alia
against women, there is nothing to prevent the Church of Scientology from imposing similar discriminatory policies to limit access for non-believers.
As far as His Grace is concerned, if Scientology is now an official religion, the Jedi constitute a church, Yoda is a prophet, and the Force a deity.
And so is the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
There is no logical end to the fragmenting of religious sects and the fracturing of cults.