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The Supreme Court judgment has profound consequences, meaning it could gain charitable status – and opens the floodgates to claims by other organizations.

 

(from The Independent News)

 

For years the Church of Scientology has waged a global campaign for acceptance as a genuine faith, keenly using the help of celebrity backing from the likes of Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Its cause has now been rewarded in Britain by a landmark legal victory, with the Supreme Court ruling that the movement – dismissed by some as a money-making cult – should in fact be treated as a bona fide religion.

 

The ramifications could be huge. Amid suggestions that Scientology might now qualify for charitable status, the Government responded by saying it would seek legal advice. Being recognised as a religion could save the church thousands of pounds in taxes; the business rate bill for its UK headquarters in East Grinstead, Sussex, is more than £107,000.

 

A government source warned that the decision “could be opening the floodgates” to a host of other groups also claiming to be religions and hoping for their own relief in business rates. The Supreme Court case centred on whether two believers could get married in a Scientology chapel in central London. Louisa Hodkin, a Scientology volunteer, sued after the Registrar General refused to approve the chapel for the solemnisation of marriages because it was not a place for “religious worship”.

 

The judgment said it would be “illogical, discriminatory and unjust” to prevent Ms Hodkin and her fiancé Alessandro Calcioli, both 25 and from East Grinstead, from marrying in accordance with their beliefs. The court also held that “Scientology comes within the meaning of a religion” despite the lack of a belief in a supreme being.

Despite once being described in Parliament as an “evil cult” by the Education Secretary Michael Gove, it could now even attempt to set up its own state-funded schools.

 

Founded in the US in the 1950s by the late science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology has been dogged for years by accusations that it is simply a money-making venture, exerts an undue level of control on adherents and has harassed those who have spoken out against it, including former members.

However, it already is exempt from tax in the US and is classed as a religion for legal purposes in countries including Italy, Sweden and Spain.

 

In the UK, the Charity Commission said in 1999 that “Scientology is not a religion for the purposes of English charity law”, when it refused an application for charitable status. A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said that it would now “have to consider the impact from this [the court’s ruling] on us” if the church reapplied.

 

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The Independent News

 

Scientology: If religions don’t need a God, what do they need?
 

We have got to the point where individuals can pretty much define it as they want.

 

What is a religion?  Everyone assumes they know – until, that is, we have to define it.

 

The Supreme Court has just discovered this slippery truth. Previously the courts had said Scientology was not a religion, because although it calls itself a Church its ceremonies were not “acts of worship”.  They were backing a previous court ruling from 1970 which had pronounced that Scientology did not involve the “veneration of God or of a Supreme Being”.

 

Common sense definitions, based largely in the culture of Britain’s Judeo-Christian inheritance, once supposed that religion was something to do with God, or gods for those who had done classics at school. The world’s main religions seems to fit that label. Some five billion people – Hindus, Jews, Christians and Muslims – see religion as something to do with deity. So do Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians and many smaller faiths.

 

But as we have learned of far-off philosophical faith-systems like Confucianism and Shintoism it has dawned that a deity is not essential to a religion. There is no God in Buddhism.  That is why, presumably, the Supreme Court justices have now said religion should not be confined to faiths involving a “supreme deity”.

 

So definitions have cascaded down to sociologists and anthropologists who, over the years have assembled rafts of criteria involving text, tradition, myth, ritual, symbol, gnosis, morality, law, sacred places and scriptures. But beyond the fact that, as Durkheim noted, religion is always social where spirituality can be solipsistic and individual, all these academics have failed to find a definition that could be universally accepted. Today we have got to the point where individuals can pretty much define it as they want, hence those who declare their religion to be “Jedi Knight” on census forms.

In our relativist age, self-definition is considered the ultimate arbiter of truth. Religion is any system of belief or behaviour by which humans give meaning to their lives. The great philosophers of the past, from Aristotle to Kant, would have been unimpressed.

 

Still it allows everyone their two-penn’orth. It allows Scientologists to claim their beliefs and services have evolved in the four decades since the last legal ruling. And it permits politicians like Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to offer a more venal view. He said: “I am very concerned about this ruling, and its implications for business rates.” If Scientologists are a religion rather than a psycho-cult they will get exemptions from local taxes on their premises. Once the traditional definitions of religion are loosed there is no knowing where we will end up.

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