12 December 2013
Supreme Court rules in favour of Scientology weddings
The UK's Supreme Court has ruled in favour of a woman who wants to marry in a Church of Scientology chapel.
Louisa Hodkin launched legal action against the authorities after she was refused from registering her marriage in a central London chapel owned by the US-based religious organisation.
A later High Court ruling backed the local council's decision not to grant her a licence to marry because of a judgement from 1970 - but this has now been overturned by the Supreme Court.
To accommodate for the increasing number of new religions becoming relevant in the UK, the judges changed the definition of the word "religion" to include faith groups that do not believe in a "supreme deity".
Ms Hodkin will now be able to marry her fiancé, Alessandro Calcioli in the new year.
However, some have expressed concern that the Supreme Court's description of Scientology as a religion could allow the controversial organisation to claim tax-cuts and grants - something highlighted by Eric Pickles, the government's communities secretary, in 2012.
Local governments minister Brandon Lewis said his department will take legal advice following the case.
"I am very concerned about this ruling and its implications for business rates. Hard-pressed taxpayers will wonder why Scientology premises should now be given tax cuts when local firms have to pay their fair share," Mr Lewis added.
Scientology was developed by science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard in the 1950s and focuses on the supposed benefits of dianetics, which is a self-help system that aims to improve mental health.
The church's rising prominence in both the US and UK has been a cause for concern among some critics and activists, who allege it intimidates those who leave its ranks.
Scientology officials deny this and state they are practicing their right to freedom of religion and should be entitled to the same benefits as other faiths.
It is unclear if the government will appeal against the Supreme Court verdict.
By Francesca Witney