Scientology can be described in many ways. But most fundamentally it is a religion, and it is our religion. The Founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, often said the greatest ability that man has is the ability to help others, and that if one can improve that ability one has improved in the most important way possible.
Accordingly, nearly all services offered in a Scientology church – courses, spiritual and Congregational activities – seek to give people the tools to better help others. Scientology is a religion because it provides a path to fully appreciate and understand one’s own spiritual identity and the identity and nature of everything else we share our existence with, including other living beings, the material universe and the infinite.
Helping others to overcome whatever is causing them a problem in life, and removing the barriers in yourself which stop you from providing such help, are at the heart of the Scientology journey to personal spiritual freedom.
And so it was that we, Alessandro (usually known as Ale, pronounced Al-ee) and Louisa, decided to become volunteers at the London Church of Scientology after we completed our A-levels.
Being a Scientologist
We both come from Scientologist families. Scientology was naturally in the background throughout our growing up years – but it was never pushed on us. We were free to make our own discoveries and decisions in life. (This is also incidentally a Scientology principle) We noticed a difference between people who really followed Scientology and those that did not.
A real Scientologist tended to have an attitude to life which said: “I am a spiritual being and will survive as such come what may; that something can be done about any problem; and helping and acting decently towards others was more important than any (so-called) personal advantage”. This was also the type of people we wanted to be – and the more we experienced of Scientology, the more we found ourselves becoming the people we wanted to be.
It was not that we chose to be Scientologists, it was just one day we both realised that we were.
So volunteering at the Church was a natural decision. We wanted to be the best that we could be, and help others to be so also.
Volunteer at Our Church
We have both had a variety of roles in the Church – and it has sometimes been very hard work. It is often real life at the deep end, and that throws all manner of different sorts of problems, and different sorts of people, at one. But there are always answers to be found, and it is ultimately very rewarding, and fun!
When we fell in love with one another, and committed our lives together, marriage was always going to be important. And if a marriage ceremony was going to be meaningful it had to align with the spiritual reality and understanding we shared. It had to be a marriage service in our own Church with a Scientology Minister.
Scientology Marriages in Scotland
In 2007 the Registrar General for Scotland had decided that Scientology Ministers could perform legal religious marriages in Scotland. And Louisa’s brother, David, had the first such marriage there, when he married Ivette. We both attended of course.
But that was not for Louisa. She saw no reason why her religion should not be treated exactly the same as anyone else’s, and no reason why she should not be married in her own Church in London. Thus her quest to achieve this, with Ale’s complete support, began.
Overturning a 40 Year Old Legal Decision
The problem in England was that there had been an old legal case, decided by the Court of Appeal in 1970, when the Court had refused the registration of a Scientology Chapel in Sussex as a place of meeting for religious worship. That meant that it could not also be registered for the solemnisation of a religious marriage. That Court had decided that Scientologists did not worship God in the manner that would have been recognised by those that framed the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855!
This just seemed totally archaic and unfair to us. Particularly as the Court of Appeal, at the same time, made an exception for Buddhists, who did not even believe in a God. It was a decision which seemed to be based on a hopeless and prejudicial understanding not only of Scientology, but of religion and religious practices generally. But nevertheless, there it stood, a fundamental barrier to our goal, and marital bliss.
So Louisa went to the Registrar General’s office, with her father, in 2008, and pleaded the case for registering our Church. They were very sympathetic, and even said that if it were not for the 1970 case they would have had no problem doing as Louisa asked. But, they said, they were bound by the Court of Appeal decision to refuse her.
We did not have the resources to take the matter to Court, but Louisa’s father discussed it with others in the Church, and it was agreed that a challenge could be funded by Scientologists generally.
Considerable preparations were embarked on, as there was clearly no room for any mistakes this time around. A barrister, Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, was engaged to help. As was the firm of solicitors, Withers. Witness statements and expert evidence were compiled. Finally, in 2011, everything was ready to launch.
Registrar General Asked Again
The Registrar General was, once again, formally asked to register the Church. As expected she refused, citing the 1970 case. So Louisa and the Church applied to the High Court to judicially review her decision.
The problem was that the High Court was also bound by the earlier Court of Appeal judgment, so that, when the matter came before Mr Justice Ouseley in 2012, he also had to refuse it. What he said, however, was very encouraging. He concluded that Scientology was a religion and said that he would have found it was a place of meeting for religious worship if he had not been bound. He said it was time for the matter to be looked at again by a higher Court. He also gave permission to Louisa to ask the Supreme Court if they were willing to hear the appeal, completely bypassing the Court of Appeal (who would also have been bound by their own earlier decision. The Supreme Court, as the highest court of all, were not so bound). This is a very rare procedure, known as a “leapfrog appeal”.
Not only did the Supreme Court agree to hear the appeal, but in light of the time that we had already waited to get married, they also agreed to do so expeditiously.
Supreme Court Hearing
And so it was that on the 18th July 2013 that the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom sat to hear our case. There were five law lords as judges, led by the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger. The hearing lasted a day – and there was much reflection on the meaning of “religion” and “religious worship”, and what Scientology was.
Their Lordships then deliberated for several months, finally delivering their judgement on 11th December 2013. Their verdict – Scientology is a religion, Scientologists engage in religious worship (which simply meant religious services of any kind), the Church must be registered, and we could get married!
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM
For us this was just the start of what turned out to be a very long day. As soon as the decision was announced by the Supreme Court, and the full judgment handed down (it can be read on the Supreme Court website here), we were inundated with requests for interviews by the media. We did our best to accommodate the requests. We were interviewed by the Times and the Press Association, and we appeared on Radio 5 live, Radio 4, BBC One News, BBC Two Newsnight, ITV News, Channel 4 News and the BBC World Service. All on one afternoon!
Louisa’s father travelled around with us, and videoed our interview for the BBC World Service on his iPhone.
You can see that interview below:
AT THE BBC
But that is not the end of our journey. In fact it is only really the beginning. Our Church was duly registered and the wedding could be planned in earnest. It promises to be a joyous day – and the start of the rest of our lives!