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Public law and Regulation

Case reports and guidance on public law and professional regulation issues

28 FEB 2013

R (on the application of (1) Hodkin and (2) Church of Scientology Religious Education College Inc) v Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages [2012] EWHC 3635 (Admin); (2013) PLLR 015

Marriage registration - Marriage Act 1949 - registered building - Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 - meaning of ‘worship' - Scientology - whether practices had changed sufficiently since 1970 to constitute worship - religious discrimination - Articles 9, 12 and 14 European Convention on Human Rights - Equality Act 2010

The Registrar General had not erred in refusing to register a chapel of the Church of Scientology as a place of religious worship, thereby preventing the recognition of religious marriage there. The Registrar was bound by the decision in R v Registrar General ex parte Segerdal [1970] 2 QB 697, which had held that the practice of Scientology could not be defined as worship, and there was no evidence to suggest that this was no longer the case.

19 December 2012

Administrative Court

Ouseley J

(1)        The first claimant (H) was a member of Church of Scientology and wished to be married in one of its chapels. The second claimant (C) wished to register the chapel as a place of meeting for religious worship under section 2 of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 (the 1855 Act). The defendant (R) refused on the grounds that the chapel was not a place for ‘religious worship', as she was bound by the decision of the Court of Appeal in R v Registrar General ex parte Segerdal [1970] 2 QB 697.

(2)        H and C claimed that Segerdal was no longer binding as circumstances had changed sufficiently to demonstrate that the practice of Scientology amounted to worship. Furthermore, the distinction drawn by the Court of Appeal between Buddhism, another non-theist faith, and Scientology was no longer tenable under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010.

(3)        Ouseley J held (i) that Segerdal did not look at whether or not Scientology was a religion, but rather decided that the practice of Scientology did not involve acts of worship. The majority found that worship was to be distinguished from religion, so that a religious place could not necessarily be said to be a place of worship. Worship required a worshipper and an object of worship. This did not exclude non-theistic religions, as Buddhism could be said to involve worship (Church of the New Faith v Commissioner of Pay-Roll Tax (Victoria) 154 CLR 120 doubted). R had applied this decision correctly. Her decision was based on the question of whether Scientologists worshipped, rather than whether Scientology was a religion [23], [32] - [33].(ii) That R had had taken the new evidence provided by H and C into account, but had decided that it did not show any material change in the fundamental nature of Scientology. In the absence of evidence of such change, Segerdal remained binding. Although there was nowadays a greater acceptance of Scientology and the Church has begun to describe itself differently, placing greater emphasis on its religious nature, its practice had not undergone any material change [38], [67] - [68]. (iii) That the definition of ‘worship' derived from Segerdal was problematic in its application to non-theistic faiths. It was also difficult to separate the notions of religion and worship [83]. (iv) That the 1855 Act did not require to be read differently given the provisions of section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998. There was no interference with the right to marry according to national laws, no interference with the right of Scientologists to practise their religion (if such it was), and no discrimination on the grounds of religion, if indeed Scientology is a religion. If there was any discrimination on the grounds of religion, it was required by the 1855 Act, which distinguished between religious places at which worship took place, and those at which it did not. There was no discrimination on the basis of the right to freedom of worship, practice or observance. Thus R's decision did not contravene the Equality Act 2010 by virtue of section 191 and paragraph 1 of Schedule 22. As such, the Court found that the decision had been in no way flawed, and as such the application was rejected. 

Claim dismissed.

Key paragraphs

[1] - [5] - Introduction

[5] - [9] - The statutory provisions

[10] - [33] - The decision in Segerdal

[34] - [41] - Is Segerdal binding on ‘worship' by Scientologists?

[42] - [75] - The evidence of change since 1967

[76] - [101] - Other submissions as to why Segerdal is not binding

[102] - Conclusion    

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