Scientology has been recognised officially as a "religion" in Britain after the country's highest court swept aside 158 years of law to rule that worshipping a god is not essential to religion.

Five Supreme Court justices redefined religion in law in order to enable Scientologists to conduct weddings.

The judgment followed a five-year legal battle by Louisa Hodkin, a 25-year-old Scientologist seeking the right to get married at the Church of Scientology chapel in central London, which she attends.

Hodkin and Alessandro Calcioli, her fiance, who were at court to hear the decision, hailed it as a victory for freedom of worship.


Hodkin began a legal challenge after the registrar-general of births, deaths and marriages refused to register the chapel to conduct marriages because it was not recognised as a place of "religious worship".

That decision stemmed from a 1970 court case which excluded Scientology because it did not fit within the terms of the 1855 Places of Worship Registration Act, which counts only groups which revere a "deity" as true religions. But even in the 1970 case Lord Denning observed that Buddhist temples were already treated as an "exception".

Hodkin's legal challenge was initially turned down by Justice Duncan Ouseley at the High Court last year on the basis of the legal definition but he immediately passed the case to the Supreme Court to reassess the law.

The five justices, including Lord Neuberger, the president of the Supreme Court, ruled that it amounted to discrimination to exclude groups which do not formally worship a god or gods. "Unless there is some compelling contextual reason for holding otherwise, religion should not be confined to religions which recognise a supreme deity," said the justices.

Afterwards, Hodkin said: "My fiance and I have always believed in the fairness of the British legal process."

But government ministers voiced alarm that it could open the way for the group to claim lucrative tax breaks and other legal privileges.

The Government is taking legal advice amid fears that the judgment could lead to organisations branded as "cults" receiving tax breaks.

In 2006 Michael Gove, now the Education Secretary, used parliamentary privilege to call Scientology an "evil cult".