This week, a Supreme Court ruling in the UK found that a Church of Scientology chapel qualified as a “place of meeting for religious worship,” and could therefore be legally registered as a place of marriage. Nelson Jones provides background and analysis:
The clear message in [the new] judgement is that these definitions of religion and worship, based as they are largely on the Christian model, are no longer appropriate in a religiously plural society. Ideas about God, noted Lord Toulson, were more properly the stuff of “theological debate” than questions for the law to unravel. Instead of worrying about whether or not the object of veneration of a group calling itself a religion fits into conventional ideas of what a god is, Toulson adopted a fairly ad hoc test. For him, religion was to be described, rather than defined, 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”.
Scientology, whatever you think of it, ticks all these boxes.
Slightly more controversial, to some, was Toulson’s comparison of Scientology to Buddhism, in that both systems aim at achieving enlightment. Buddhism has an Eightfold Path, while L Ron Hubbard’s system is “aimed ultimately at complete affinity with the [eighth] dynamic or infinity”. It’s worth noting here that the judgement takes its information about Scientology entirely from materials submitted by a minister at the chapel that requested registration, Laura Wilks, rather than, say, the more critical account recently published by the BBC’s John Sweeney. It was an analysis of marriage law rather than the pros and cons of [Church of Scientology leader] David Miscavige’s international organisation.
Andrew Brown remains doubtful that Scientology qualifies as a religion:
The main thing, I think, is the separation of worship from any condition of moral benefit. Satanists clearly qualify as a religion under Toulson’s rules. But this, in turn, means that a religion is not automatically a charity. As I understand it, that’s also the legal position. Whether you qualify as a religion for marital purposes is independent of whether you qualify as one for charitable purposes and thus gain various tax advantages. … [T]his legal and conceptual distinction is very important. We may not want the state to judge the truth of myths. We certainly still need it to have an opinion on their effects.