Supreme Court Judges were unable to decide whether services in the Church of Scientology - the cult of choice for Tom Cruise and other Hollywood celebrities - should be considered religious worship.
The discussion in the highest court is the culmination of one couple’s five year legal battle to marry in a Scientology chapel in London. Louisa Hodkin, 24, first took the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths to court in 2008 after they said she could not marry her fiancé there because it was not a place of worship.
A decision in yesterday’s Supreme Court hearing was delayed so that the Registrar had time to send in further evidence on whether it should have been deciding at all what constituted a religious ceremony. A ruling is now not expected until October, after the summer break.
Ms Hodkin said she “remained hopeful” that the court will rule in her favour and allow her to marry her fiancé, Alessandro Calcioli. The couple were unable to attend court because of the birth of their daughter, Isla, just two days before yesterday's hearing.
She said in a statement: “It’s been a long and demanding five years so far, but Alessandro and I remain strong and patient. We have always believed in the fairness of the British legal process, and I remain hopeful that the Supreme Court will rule in our favour.”
The hearing, in front of Lords Neuberger, Wilson, Toulson, Clarke and Reed got increasingly bogged down in a discussion of what constituted religious worship.
Lord Neubegrer asked: “If you have a group of vegetarians who believe passionately in vegetarianism and have meetings in which to promulgate that view, is that a form of worship?” Later adding: “I don't regard that as a religion because you can't very well worship a vegetable.”
The judges appeared divided on how to define Scientology chapel services - designed for those who follow a group of beliefs created by Los Angeles Science fiction writer Ron Hubbard.
After reading out a prayer used in every Scientology service, which says, ”May the owner of the universe enable all men to reach an understanding of their spiritual nature... May God let it be so,” Lord Wilson asked: “Just looking at that, how is that not a manifestation of religious worship?”
James Strachan QC, representing the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages, said the chapel’s services could not be considered worship: “It’s a spiritual investigation of oneself, not the worship of a divine being”
He added: “The process of scientology is not about worshipping god or a supreme being - it's about instruction, auditing and training. The practices involved here are not in fact directed in reality to religious worship, they are very much processes directed at self-awareness achieved through auditing and training.”
Lord Toulson asked whether simply self-analysing could be considered worship. “is it enough for the communication to come from something within ourselves or does communication have to be with something external?”, he said.
Ms Hodkin’s barrister, Lord Lester QC, retorted “Even Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within you”.
Her solicitor, Paul Hewitt, said in a statement: “We hope the Supreme Court reviews the facts in the context of the modern, multi-cultural world we now live in, which recognises the right for everyone to be treated equally. It has always felt wrong that Louisa has been denied the right afforded to members of other faiths to enjoy a legal marriage ceremony in accordance with her own religious beliefs and in her own Church. We look forward to the judgment.”