Family Law Hub

R (on the application of) Louisa Hodkin v Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages [2012] EWHC 3635 (Admin)

  • In brief:  Louisa Hodkin is a 23 year old Scientologist who wanted to marry her fiancé (also a Scientologist) at a chapel of the Church of Scientology in London. The chapel was not registered under s.2 Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 as a "place of meeting for religious worship". It could therefore not be a "registered building" within the meaning of s.26 Marriage Act 1949 and, unless registered under the 1855 Act, no application could be made under the Marriage Act 1949 for the chapel to be registered for the solemnisation of marriages. S.26 Marriage Act 1949 contains no prescription as to the form of service required for a marriage ceremony in a registered place of worship, registered for the solemnisation of marriages.  

    When the Church of Scientology had applied to register the chapel for the solemnisation of marriages, the Register General had refused the application on the grounds that it was not a place of meeting for religious worship. Ms Hodkin challenged that decision, contending that she had been the victim of unlawful religious discrimination.  

    Ouseley J dismissed the appeal stating that he was bound by the decision in R v Registrar General ex parte Segerdal [1970] 2 QB 697 where a Scientology chapel had been found not to be a meeting place for religious worship because its services were "instructions in the tenets of a philosophy concerned with man and were not concerned with religious worship" (indeed, in that case, Lord Denning had defined Scientology as a philosophy rather than a religion). Although he concluded that Segerdal  established that a place for religious worship could cover a place for "non-theistic religious worship", Ouseley J said:

    "It does not decide whether Scientology is a religion or not; that issue is left open, though the Court's doubts are clear. But, religion or no, it decides that Scientology services did not involve acts of worship. The Registrar General did not misunderstand this decision. She applied it. She did not refuse to register the chapel because Scientology if a religion, was not a theistic religion. She refused to register it and submitted that I was bound by Segerdal to uphold that refusal because, religion or not, theistic or otherwise, Scientologists did not "worship."

    Ms Hodkin and the Church of Scientology (who appeared as the second claimant), submitted that Scientology as a religion had developed since 1970 and a more expansive approach was now needed. Significantly, Ouseley J found that there had not been any significant changes in the beliefs of Scientologists or in their services since Segerdal.  In granting leave to appeal, Ouseley J said: 

    "On what I have read in this case, I would conclude that Scientology was a religion for the purposes of the 1855 Act . . . no significant change in the beliefs of Scientologists or in their services since the decision in Segerdal . . . What has changed is the way in which Scientology describes itself, with a greater emphasis on its being a religion . . . Forty years on from Segerdal, the Court of Appeal may find the route at least to reconsder its decision in Segerdal, with the fuller material now available."

Case note, published: 09/01/2013

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Published: 09/01/2013

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