As ULC ministers, we sometimes take our religious freedoms for granted. We usually think of LGBT people when we think of couples fighting to have their marriages legally recognized, but religious minorities also struggle to have their marriages legally recognized in some countries. For a long time this was true for Scientologists married in the United Kingdom, but this changed recently when a British court officially declared Scientology a religion. While some view the new law as a win for a misunderstood religion, others see it as validation of a dangerous cult.
Fighting for the Right to Marry
The battle began when a lower court ruled that 25-year-old Louisa Hodkin’s marriage to her fiancé lacked legal standing, because it was performed by the Church of Scientology. Scientology marriages lacked legal standing, the court argued, because Britain did not recognize the church as a religion. After the ruling, Hodkin appealed the case to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, which overturned the lower court’s ruling and declared Scientology a religion. In his ruling, Supreme Court Justice Lord Roger Toulson explained that religion should not be restricted to belief in a supreme being, because doing so would constitute “a form of religious discrimination unacceptable in today’s society”.
Scientology’s status as a religion, with all the rights and freedoms concomitant to legal recognition, has been relatively precarious over the years. Reinforcing its reputation as a commercial venture (whether deserved or not), a British court ruled in 1970 that marriages performed in Scientology chapels could not be legally recognized, because the church did not involve religious worship. It was this decision that the recent ruling overturned. Recognition has come sooner in the United States, where in 1994 the Internal Revenue Service granted tax exemptions to every Scientology establishment in the nation.
Minority Religion, or Creepy Cult?
For church members the recent ruling by Britain’s high court marks a step forward for an historically marginalized religion, but many former members contend the church is a controlling and manipulative organization. Allegedly, the church has a history of attacking and abusing those who have left and become critics of it, while other former members have said that when they were with the church they used personal information obtained from auditing records to launch smear campaigns against members-turned-critics.
Scientology remains controversial, and with controversy comes questions over its legal status, but many religions are controversial; we can imagine many of the same critiques being leveled against many faiths, and indeed they have been at one point or another. Should Scientologists be denied marriage rights just because their religion is unpalatable to others?
The Huffington Post
The Tampa Bay Times