24/10/2012 13:31 BST

Scientologist Louisa Hodkin Launches Battle For Right To Marry In Scientology Chapel

A member of the Church of Scientology has launched a High Court battle for the right to marry in a Scientology chapel.

Louisa Hodkin, 23, is challenging a refusal of the registrar general of births, deaths and marriages in England and Wales to register the chapel for the solemnisation of marriages on the grounds that it is not "a place of meeting for religious worship".

A judge heard Ms Hodkin wants to marry a fellow Scientologist at the church's chapel on the ground floor of its premises in Queen Victoria Street, central London.

Her lawyers say she is the victim of unlawful religious discrimination.


Louise Hodkin has launched a High Court battle for the right to marry in a Scientology chapel

Under section 2 of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855, the chapel has to be certified as a meeting place for religious worship to enable legally recognised religious marriages to take place.

Miss Hodkin and her fiance, who are both church volunteers, are challenging the legality of the registrar general's refusal to certify the London chapel for weddings in July last year.

The case is of general importance as Scientologists have previously unsuccessfully applied for certification at other premises in England they have claimed are for "religious worship".

Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, appearing for Miss Hodkin and the Church of Scientology Religious Education College, described how Miss Hodkin's brother, David, was married in a religious ceremony at a Church of Scientology in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2007.

He said Miss Hodkin and her fiance wanted to similarly celebrate their marriage through a legally recognised Scientology wedding in London, surrounded by their families and fellow church volunteers.

But a casework manager for the registrar general said such a wedding could not be recognised because of the 1970 case of "Segerdal" in the Court of Appeal.

Judges in that case ruled that another Scientology chapel was not a meeting place for religious worship because its services involved "instructions in the tenets of a philosophy concerned with man" and were not concerned with religious worship.

Lord Lester argued the registrar general had unlawfully fettered her discretion or misdirected herself in law.

He told Mr Justice Ouseley, sitting at London's High Court, there had been a failure to have proper regard to evidence that the form of worship observed by Scientologists had continued to evolve and now was materially different from what it had been at the time of the Segerdal case.

Founded by L Ron Hubbard, it held in common with many of the world's oldest religions that people were here "to work out our own salvation" by reaching an understanding "of ourselves and the universe".

Only in that way "can we understand the Supreme Being and our relationship with the universe".

Lord Lester argued Scientology was being treated less favourably than Buddhism and Jainism, which were both non-theistic religions whose adherents did not worship a personal god or supreme being but were nonetheless allowed to register places of religious worship and hold marriage ceremonies.

He accused the registrar general of failing to comply with equal treatment laws.

He asked the court to order the registrar general to register the Queen Victoria Street chapel as a "place of meeting for religious worship" and to certify it for the solemnisation of marriages.

James Strachan, appearing on behalf of the registrar general, said there had been no unlawful discrimination and the court should not intervene.

He argued that the appeal court decision in Segerdal remained valid and binding - "the overall position remains that the fundamentals of scientology have not changed since Segerdal".

Mr Strachan said: "The important point in all this is the concept of worship and whether religious worship is taking place."

He argued that at the core of Scientology services was a process of auditing and instruction "that does not fall within the concept of worship as understood in the ordinary sense".

Reserving judgment at the end of a two-day hearing, the judge said he would give his decision at a later date.