Scientology in Europe

Official Recognitions Abound

Saint Hill College for Scientologists
The Saint Hill College for Scientologists is situated next to Saint Hill Manor on fifty-five acres of rolling countryside in East Grinstead, Sussex, England. Members from many countries pursue Scientology religious studies at Saint Hill.

All new religions have had to endure, at the times of their birth, trials of acceptance. The same was true of Scientology. But with the Church's growing prominence and visibility came recognition and understanding. Today the religiosity of Scientology has become fully acknowledged by courts and governments on both sides of the Atlantic and throughout the rest of the world.

Courts in the United States had always held that Scientology is a religion; indeed, in a September 1993 federal appeals court ruling, the judges pronounced that there is not a single instance in which a United States court held otherwise.

The most significant legal recognition of the Scientology religion came in October 1993, when the U.S. Internal Revenue Service granted full non-profit status and tax exemption to all churches of Scientology and related social betterment organisations, concluding after an exhaustive and thorough review that Scientology churches are “organised and operated exclusively for religious and charitable purposes.”

The IRS examination was not limited to the United States, but specifically included reviews of the financial affairs and activities of Church organisations from Australia to Europe.

European governments have since then bestowed similar recognitions of religious and charitable status on churches of Scientology. Often, they were preceded by rulings of the leading courts.

As early as 1980, the Appeals Court in Paris ruled that Scientology must be granted full protection as a religion under the French Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. This decision was later supported by the Appeals Court in Lyon, a ruling upheld by the French Constitutional Court.

In 1997, the Church of Scientology in Milan won a ruling that scholars in religious studies regard as one of the most important legal precedents relative to religion by any top court in Europe. The Italian Supreme Court overruled a lower court that had narrowly defined religion as Judeo-Christian, noting that Taoism, Buddhism and many other great religions had thereby been excluded. The Court described in considerable detail why Scientology deserves to be regarded as a religion — a decision followed by the Italian Ministry of Finance, which soon afterward granted non-profit recognition and tax exemption to Scientology churches in Italy.

Only a few weeks later, it was the turn of the Federal Administrative Court in Germany to announce that Scientology religious practices are “spiritual counselling” aimed at “the attainment of a higher level of being.” Germany’s administrative courts and appeals courts have consistently held in more than 40 rulings over the last three decades that the Scientology religion is to be afforded the protection of Article 4 of the German Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of religious belief and practice as well as ideological opinion.

In November 1999, the government of Sweden declared the Church of Scientology to be a charitable, non-profit organisation with a religious purpose. The following year, the Swedish government officially further recognised the Church by granting its ministers the right to perform marriages.

In recent years, authorities in the United Kingdom have issued similar decrees. The Ministry of Defence, specifically the Royal Navy, recognised the Scientology religion as one of the faiths that sailors must be allowed to practice and provisions to do so made accordingly. In May 2001, Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise granted churches of Scientology exemption from value added tax on the basis that they are religious organisations. That same year, England’s Internal Revenue decreed that employees of the Church who are part of its religious order are not subject to the ordinary wage laws but must be treated in alignment with the rules for religious institutions. In fact, a near-identical determination was made by Germany’s Federal Labour Court in October 2002 which stated explicitly that the staff members of Scientology churches are “seeking idealistic purposes and [their] own spiritual perfection through the teachings of Scientology.”

Most significantly, in January 2003, the German Federal Finance Office granted the Church of Scientology International, the Mother Church of the Scientology religion, full tax exemption on monies given in support of the mother church by nine churches of Scientology in Germany — a decision reported in hundreds of newspaper articles across the country.

Such confirmations and similar recognitions have been forthcoming during the same time period virtually everywhere — in Holland, Hungary, Portugal, Switzerland, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, India and Japan.

Within the last year, the Austrian tax office, too, came to the conclusion that the work of the Church of Scientology in Vienna is for the public benefit and not for anyone’s personal profit. It thus granted that Church tax-exempt status as a charitable religious organisation.

In December 2002, the government of New Zealand issued an official decree fully recognising the Church of Scientology of New Zealand as an exempt religious and charitable organisation in that country.

And in March 2003, the National Ministry of the Interior for Taiwan also recognised the Church of Scientology of Taiwan as a charitable religious institution and officially added it to the rolls of the recognised religions of the country.

These recognitions were not necessarily easily won. As mentioned, it was often necessary to appeal to the arbiters of justice. Church officials not infrequently had to deal with misconceptions about Scientology, and even false reports. But every time, when courts and government officials honestly and objectively examined the facts, they came to agree with the Australian High Court, which found in 1983 that “Scientology is irresistibly a religion.”

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Legal status of the Church of Scientology in Europe and the World