UKSC 77 (2013)
The appellant practised scientology. She planned to get married in a Church of Scientology. According to previous case law, Church of Scientology was not a “place of meeting for religious worship” within the meaning of section 2 of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 with the result that a valid ceremony of marriage could not be conducted there.
FoRB violation – Conscience (i.e. having or adopting a religion of one’s choice); Discrimination. Appeal allowed
(1)‘There has never been a universal legal definition of religion in English law, and experience across the common law world over many years has shown the pitfalls of attempting to attach a narrowly circumscribed meaning to the word. There are several reasons for this – the different contexts in which the issue may arise, the variety of world religions, developments of new religions and religious practices, and developments in the common understanding of the concept of religion due to cultural changes in society.
While the historical origins of the legislation are relevant to understanding its purpose, the expression “place of meeting for religious worship” in section 2 of PWRA must be interpreted in accordance with contemporary understanding of religion and not by reference to the culture of 1855. It is no good considering whether the members of the legislature over 150 years ago would have considered Scientology to be a religion because it did not exist’.
(2) ‘the expression “religious worship” as wide enough to include religious services, whether or not the form of service falls within the narrower definition adopted in Segerdal. This broader interpretation accords with standard dictionary definitions. The Chambers Dictionary, 12th ed (2011) defines the noun “worship” as including both “adoration paid to a deity, etc” and “religious service”, and it defines “worship” as an intransitive verb as “to perform acts of adoration; to take part in religious service”. Similarly, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 12th ed (2011), defines “worship” as including both “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration of a deity” and “religious rites and ceremonies”.
(3) The broader interpretation accords with the purpose of the statute in permitting members of a religious congregation, who have a meeting place where they perform their religious rites, to carry out religious ceremonies of marriage there. Their authorisation to do so should not depend on fine theological or liturgical niceties as to how precisely they see and express their relationship with the infinite (referred to by Scientologists as “God” in their creed and universal prayer). Those matters, which have been gone into in close detail in the evidence in this case, are more fitting for theologians than for the Registrar General or the courts.
(4) The court overruled ‘the decision in Segerdal; allow the appeal; declare that the chapel at 146 Queen Victoria Street is a place of meeting for religious worship within section 2 of PWRA; and order the Registrar General to register the chapel under section 3 of PWRA and as a place for the solemnisation of marriages under section 41(1) of the Marriage Act’.