Following a landmark ruling this week to allow a woman the right to marry in a Scientology chapel, the organisation may soon be eligible to be treated as tax-exempt in the UK.
The Church of Scientology may soon be eligible for the tax breaks, which are workth millions of pounds, after five Supreme Court justices ruled that the Scientology chapel is a “place of meeting for religious worship”, in a unanimous decision.
The justices noted that a ruling from 1970 which said that a religious worship must involve a “supreme being” was now out of date.
Winning in the case was 25-year-old Louisa Hodkin, who said she was prepared to wait as long as necessary to be able to marry her fiance Allessandro Calcionli.
The move is being noted as The Church of Scientology having taken step towards being recognised as a charity in the UK.
If the church were to successfully register as a charity, it would be entitled to a number of tax breaks, inclyding gift aid refunds, and an exemption from corporation tax.
The Times reports that the church took over £13 million in donations and course fees in 2011.
A 1999 ruling by the Charity Commission stated that the church was not a charity, as it was not seen as a religion under charity law, and was also not set up in the public interest.
“I presume that the next step for Scientology is to ask the Charity Commission to revisit its previous refusal to register it as a charity in England and Wales,” said Frank Cranmer, of the Churches’ Legislation Advisory Service. “But the answer to that will depend on whether or not the Commission concludes that Scientology advances religion for the public benefit – a rather separate issue.”
Scientology chapels are now able to be registered as “places of worship” in the UK, and apart from just allowing marriage ceremonies to take place there, they will be able to be exempt from business rates which are charged on non-religious buildings, as long as the buildings are open to the public.
Minister for local government Brandon Lewis said he was concerned at the ruling, and is taking legal advice. He said: “Hard-pressed taxpayers will wonder why Scientology premises should now be given tax cuts when local firms have to pay their fair share.”
A Scientology spokesman told the Times: “The Supreme Court has confirmed that Scientology fits within the meaning of religion and for it to be treated differently from other religions would be unjust.”
“Today is about Louisa and Ale being able to marry as they have sought for the past five years.”
The Church of Scientology was founded in 1952 by science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard. Its followers believe that aliens, called ‘thetans’ were sent to earth 75 million years ago by Xenu, a warlord, and attached themselves to humans.
The church has tax exempt status in the US, and is recognised as a religion in Italy, Sweden and Spain.
Based on the writings of L Ron Hubbard, the church has for a long time been understood to be in opposition to gay rights, but that has been disputed by the church.