Friday, May 23, 2008
New Publication: Religious Recognition of the Church of Scientology in Europe
Courts have determined that Scientology must be treated the same as other religions throughout Europe, including decisions concerning Scientology rendered by the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission on Human Rights which establish binding precedent in all 46 European countries that have signed and ratified the European Convention on Human Rights. In addition to the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission on Human Rights decisions, Scientology has also been recognized as a religion through numerous judicial and administrative rulings in many European countries. Finally Scientology has been recognized and registered as a religion in many countries that have a religious registry.
Scientology has been fully and officially recognized as a religion and has also been granted full tax exemption in Sweden. On November 23, 1999, tax authorities in Stockholm granted the Church of Scientology status as a religious organization exempt from tax after determining that the Church pursues a religious purpose as required under the law. On March 13, 2000, the National Judicial Board for Public Lands & Funds (National Administration of Religions) registered the Church of Scientology Sweden as a religious community and two months later granted Scientology ministers the right to perform marriages with legal validity, thereby fully recognizing Scientology as a religion for all of Sweden. In a four-page statement issued at the time of registration, the National Judicial Board outlined the religious character, permanence and organization of the Church of Scientology and concluded that Scientology fully meets the criteria for recognition as a religion.
The Church of Scientology of Portugal was registered as a nonprofit, religious association on April 7, 1988 by the Ministry of Justice. As such, the Church of Scientology of Portugal is recognized as a religious organization and fully tax-exempt.
The 1990 Hungarian "Law on the Freedom of Conscience" regulates the activities and benefits enjoyed by religious communities and establishes criteria for attaining the status of a religious organization. The Church of Scientology of Hungary was officially registered as a religious organization under the Law on the Freedom of Conscience in 1991. As a result of this religious recognition, each new Church of Scientology opened in Hungary is recognized as an independent religious organization under the Hungarian Mother Church.
In a decision dated August 1, 1995, the Administrative Court of Vienna ruled that "in addition to the fact that after several decades of thorough investigations, Scientology has been granted the status of a bona fide religion and charitable organization by the IRS, less than two years ago in the United States, the country with the greatest number of Churches of Scientology, sufficient evidences was also given by [the Church] to convince us that the Church of Scientology of Austria was a religion". The Court went on to note the religious nature of the Church's services, which the Court characterized as "religious acts in accordance with the religious identity of the Church of Scientology itself, which appears obvious in the statutes of the organization". In 1996, the Austrian Constitutional Court, in the case Re Fabio Rasp which concerned parental custody rights of a Scientologist, determined that any attempt to treat Scientology differently from other religions "is contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights and is therefore in violation of the law."(1). (1) In Re Fabio Rasp 2 Ob 2192/96h (23 August 1996)
European Court of Human Rights and European Commission on
Human Rights Decisions recognizing the Scientology Religious Bona fides
The European Court of Human Rights issued a unanimous landmark decision on 5th April 2007 in favor of the Scientology religion, upholding the religious freedom of Scientologists and their religious associations throughout the forty-six nations that have signed and ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), adopted by the Council of Europe in 1950. By ruling in favor of the Church of Scientology, the Court reaffirmed an important issue that the Russian Federation has committed itself to uphold, namely the right to religious freedom for not only Scientologists but members of all religions throughout Europe.
The Human Rights Court in the case entitled Church of Scientology Moscow v. Russia (application no. 18147/02), overturned the Moscow City government's refusal to register the Church of Scientology of Moscow as a religious organization. By way of background, the Moscow Church was officially registered as a religious community in 1994, but was denied re-registration under a 1997 law restricting registration of religious organizations, despite several court rulings finding that the Church fully qualified for registration under that law.
The Court found that "the reasons invoked by the Moscow Justice Department and endorsed by the Moscow courts to deny re-registration of the applicant branch had no legal basis, it can be inferred that, in denying registration to the Church of Scientology of Moscow, the Moscow authorities did not act in good faith and neglected their duty of neutrality and impartiality vis-à-vis the applicant's religious community. In the light of the foregoing, the Court considers that the interference with the applicant's right to freedom of religion and association was not justified. There has therefore been a violation of Article 11 of the Convention read in the light of Article 9."
This case is extremely significant because it confirms that the European Court of Human Rights considers that the Church of Scientology, like other faiths in the European Community, is a bona fide religious organization entitled to the same rights under the European Convention on Human Rights as any other religious organization under the Convention.
This is not the first time that the Strasbourg organs have recognized the right of a Church of Scientology to exercise the right to freedom of religion for itself and on behalf of its members. The Church of Scientology has previously been before the European Commission on Human Rights in a case that decided that a Church could represent its members to assert their religious rights under Article 9. See, X and Church of Scientology v. Sweden (16 DR 109 [Ecom HR 1979]). The Commission concluded that the Church of Scientology, as "a Church body is capable of possessing and exercising the rights contained in Article 9(1) in its own capacity as a representative of its members." Implicit in this is the corollary conclusion that Scientology is a bona fide religion.
Church of Scientology Moscow v. Russia reaffirms and definitively establishes what human rights experts, academics and a numerous national courts have already found: that Scientology is a bona fide religion and the Church of Scientology is a "religious community" entitled to the full panoply of human rights and religious freedom rights that flow to such organizations. Any attempt by governments to treat a Church of Scientology differently cannot withstand scrutiny.
Church of Scientology Moscow v. Russia stands as a landmark decision affecting freedom of religion across Europe, as the decision will impact religious rights in all states subject to the European Court of Human Rights.
Answer given by Mr. Vitorino on behalf of the Commission (written question: E-0775/04) - (29 April 2004)
The Commission is not aware of the facts invoked by the Honorable MEP. As regards the refusal of entry visa on their territory imposed by the German authorities to the head of the Unification Church Mr. Moon and to his wife, the Commission underlines that, on the basis of the provisions concerning the issuing of uniform visas valid for the territory of the member countries of the Schengen agreement, every Member State examines the visa demand based on a number of criteria indicated in the common consular instruction. However, the decision to issue or to refuse such visa remains within the appreciation of each member state. The common consular instruction does not impose to the Member States the obligation to justify possible visa refusal.
In the opinion of the Commission, the questions regarding the status of the Church of Scientology and other religious communities in Germany fall within the "Declaration regarding the status of churches and non-confessional organizations", annexed to the Amsterdam Treaty, according to which "The Union respects and does not prejudice the status enjoyed upon the national law by the Churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States. The Union respects also the status of the philosophical and non-confessional organizations". By the way, the Commission is not competent to intervene with regard to possible violations of fundamental rights and particularly the freedom of religion, except when these are coming within the scope of the Community law and its implementation.
To this end, as in all other Member States, since 2 December 2003 Germany is obliged to apply the directive 2000/78/EC which prohibits the discrimination based on religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, with regard to employment and work. (footnote: Official Journal L 303, 2.12.2003). In the framework of examining the implementation by the Member States of the above-mentioned directive, the Commission has sent to Germany a warning letter concerning the non-communication of the transposition measures adopted by this country.
Finally, it has to be reminded that if a person considers his fundamental rights violated, he has the possibility to make a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights, after exhausting the domestic procedures.
The German Courts have recognized Scientology's religious bona fides in over 40 cases.
On 12 December 2003, the Administrative Court of Appeal of Baden-Württemberg determined that the Church of Scientology Stuttgart is a religious organization protected under the German Constitution. The Administrative Court of Appeal also found no evidence whatsoever to support the government's allegation concerning commercial activity.
The Court held that "on the basis of recent scientific examinations that deal with the aims of the Scientology organization, there are no tangible indications that support the allegation that the teachings of Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard are used as mere pretence for a commercial activity."
Likewise, in November 1997, the German Federal Supreme Administrative Court issued a landmark ruling that the services of Scientology are spiritual in nature and do not have a commercial basis. The case concerned Baden-Württemberg's attempt to have a Scientology mission de-registered on the grounds that it was in violation of its statutes and engaged in commercial, not religious activity. The government subsequently withdrew its case and, on the court's order, paid the Church's costs. In October 2002, the Federal Labor Court ruled that staff members who work in a Church of Scientology are motivated by idealistic and spiritual aims. In reaching its decision, the Court relied on the landmark, 1997 decision by the German Federal Supreme Administrative Court finding that Scientology's religious practices are intended for spiritual gain and serve a religious purpose.
Also in October 2002, in a precedent-setting decision that the government decided not to appeal, the German Federal Tax Court in Cologne ruled that two Church of Scientology corporations headquartered in Los Angeles are exempt from tax in Germany. Ruling that these organizations qualify under the 1989 Income Tax Treaty between the United States and Germany, the Court overturned the German Federal Tax Office's May 1996 denial of their exemption applications.
Following the Tax Court ruling, in January 2003, the Federal Finance Office in Germany: 1) issued letters granting tax exemption to SMI with respect to payments of license fees to Scientology Missions International from thee Scientology Missions of Karlsruhe, Ulm, Wiesbaden and Göppingen.; and 2) issued letters granting tax exemption to the Church of Scientology International (CSI), the Mother Church of the Scientology religion, with respect to license payments it receives from nine Churches of Scientology in Germany.
On March 23, 2004, the Church of Scientology Düsseldorf received official registration as an idealistic association from the District Court Düsseldorf. In June 2004, the Hamburg State Administrative Court of Appeal determined that actions taken by the Hamburg government to discriminate against a Scientologist interfered with her right to religious freedom protected by Article 4 of the German Constitution. The Court's decision represents a clear affirmation of the religious rights of members of the Church of Scientology: "Thus it has been established that the plaintiff not only professes alone for herself a personal, individual, religious or philosophic belief, but shares this in community with others and thereby obtains the protection of Article 4 [freedom of religion or belief] of the Constitution."
The Church of Scientology has been recognized as a religion in numerous judicial and administrative decisions in Italy and is universally regarded as a religion in this country. Most significantly, the Italian Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed the religiosity of Scientology. The Italian Supreme Court issued a decision in October 1997 regarding Scientology that is now recognized as the leading European judicial precedent regarding the definition of religion.
The Court thoroughly analyzed the criteria for determining religion, concluding that Scientology is a bona fide religion whose activities, "without exception, [are] characteristic of all religious movements." In reaching this determination regarding Scientology's bona fides, the Court rejected the definition of religion applied below in the case by the Court of Appeals because it was drawn from Judeo-Christian concepts: "a system of doctrines centered on the assumption of the existence of a Supreme Being, who had a direct relationship with men and whom they must obey and revere." The Court found "[s]uch a definition of religion, in itself partial since derived - as asserted - exclusively from religions stemming from the Bible, is illegal under many viewpoints; it is based on philosophical and socio-historical assumptions that are incorrect." Moreover, the Supreme Court noted that the lower court also erred because the definition used to exclude Scientology also excludes Buddhism, Taoism or any "polytheistic, shamanistic or animistic religions."
The Italian Supreme Court also issued a decision in October 2000 in a case concerning income tax liability for the Church of Scientology of Milano in which it referred to and relied on the "numerous and by now prevailing" body of jurisprudence finding that Scientology is a religion.
The Supreme Court also criticized the lower Court for failing to take into consideration that the Church is fully tax exempt in the United States and has been found to be a religion by many experts in the field. The Supreme Court further noted that Scientology is considered to be a religious organization not only in English-speaking nations, but also in other countries of the European Community.
In December 1997, the executive branch of the government also recognized the religiosity of Scientology when the Minister of Finance exempted Churches of Scientology from tax procedures and assessments, classifying the churches as "religious and non-profit associations." The Church, the Minister's decree noted, has "as its only aim, support for the dissemination of the religion of Scientology."
This represents another European Union executive branch finding that the Church of Scientology fulfils a religious purpose as required by Article 3.2 of the Religious Liberty Law.
Croatia is not in the European Union but does have a religious registry system. In December 2003, the Church of Scientology of Croatia was registered as a religious community in Croatia and the Church of Scientology Mission of Zagreb was registered as a local religious organization under the central Church.
Religious communities in Slovenia must register with the Government's Office for Religious Communities to practice in that country. Registration entitles such religious groups to certain tax benefits. The Church of Scientology was recognized as a religious community by the Government of the Slovenian Republic Office for the Religious Communities in 1995, with all of the attendant rights and privileges.
Recognitions in other European Countries
In a number of other European Union countries, Scientology is still in the missionary stage with either no formal organizations yet established or new missions that have not yet sought religious registration or other forms of religious recognition. This includes such countries as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Ireland. In other countries, such as Greece, Belgium, and France, the Church's organizations are established as religious organizations and operate as such, though this status has not been formally accepted by these countries.
Church of Scientology
Its status in the rest of the world, declared by governments and courts
Religious Recognition of the Church of Scientology in the United States of America
Following a two-year examination of unprecedented scope and depth, encompassing all the Church's worldwide operations, and review of every single allegation made by Church apostates and other critics, the US Tax Authority IRS issued ruling letters on October 1, 1993 recognizing the tax-exempt religious and charitable status of the Church of Scientology International, the Mother Church of the Scientology religion, and 150 affiliated churches, missions and social betterment organizations - all Scientology-related entities in the U.S. and many non-U.S. entities as well. In this exacting review, conducted under the supervision of the most senior officials over exempt organizations in the government, the IRS concluded that the Church is operated exclusively for religious and charitable purposes.
In issuing its favorable exemption rulings, the IRS necessarily determined that: 1) Scientology is a bona fide religion; 2) the Churches of Scientology and their related charitable and educational institutions are operated exclusively for recognized religious purposes; 3) the Churches of Scientology and their related charitable and educational institutions operate for the benefit of the public interest rather than the interests of private individuals; and 4) no part of the net earnings of these Churches of Scientology and their related charitable and educational institutions inures for the benefit of any individual or non-charitable entity.
The IRS reached its considered and unqualified opinion that the Churches are tax exempt only after conducting the most extensive and detailed exemption examination in its history.
Indeed, the examination was so extensive that the administrative record of these proceedings comprises approximately twelve linear feet. The extensive examination by the IRS included numerous queries into the corporate and financial structure of the Church of Scientology ecclesiastical hierarchy, the religious services ministered to parishioners, the organization, administration and governance of individual Churches, the receipt and disbursement of donations, compensation to ecclesiastical executives and others, and many other matters.
This examination also included the review of balance sheets, bank statements, cancelled checks and similar financial information. In addition to reviewing responses to specific questions, the IRS also conducted on-site examinations of facilities of various Scientology Churches and Scientology organizations, examined hundreds of boxes of their financial records, and thoroughly reviewed their activities. All IRS concerns were fully satisfied by this extensive and rigorous review process. Otherwise, exemption would never have occurred.
The IRS specifically examined details about the Church's fundraising practices relating both to the proselytizing practices of the Church and its policies relating to contributions for services. The IRS has confirmed that they would not have made favorable determinations if they had found that (i) the Church impermissibly served private interests; (ii) it had violated a fundamental public policy. The determinations by the IRS included the finding that the Church of Scientology meets the definition of a "Church" as well as a charitable religious organization.
In the United States, Scientology is officially recognized as a religion throughout the United States government. Ministers of the religion are entitled to minister immigration status by State Department and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) decisions finding that Scientology is a bona fide religion. As noted in a 1996 State Department record released pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, the United States government's position is that the Church of Scientology is as much a Church "as the Catholic Church or any other commonly recognized church".
The State Department's human rights reports each year express concern when there is discrimination against the Scientology religion. The State Department has expressed concern regarding religious discrimination directed at the Scientology religion and Scientologists in certain European countries in human rights reports over the last 12 years.
On March 22, 1996, the Dianetics Association of Caracas was recognized as a tax exempt religious association. The Church of Scientology of Venezuela has been registered as a religious association by the Ministry of Justice since February 1, 1999.
Scientology was recognized as a religion in Ecuador in 1997.
Scientology was recognized as a religion in Costa Rica in 1991.
In September 2004, the Church of Scientology Mission of Brazil was registered by the Ministry of Justice in Brazil as a religious association.
Scientology was recognized as a religion in the Philippines in 2003.
Scientology was recognized as a religion in India in 2003.
The Church of Scientology is fully recognized as a bona fide charitable religious organization under Australian Law. In October of 1983, the Australian High Court ruled that Scientology is a religion and "[t]he conclusion that [the Church] is a religious institution entitled to the tax exemption is irresistible." The High Court reached this conclusion on the basis of an evaluation of the definition of religion that encompassed the teachings of all faiths generally accorded religious status. This was an expansion of the previous definition of religion in English law that had restricted religiosity to a narrow Judeo-Christian concept and which excluded the majority of worshipers in the world.
The High Court decision is now recognized as the seminal decision on the definition of religion and on tax exemption in Australia. In fact, the Inquiry into the Definition of Charities and Related Organizations conducted by the Australian government cites this case as "the most significant Australian authority on the question of what constitutes a religion…. The High Court found Scientology to be a religion. On the question of the current approach to the meaning of religion, the Scientology case provides the best elucidation…."
This case is recognized internationally as a leading case on religion. In February 2005, the English Lords of Appeal issued a judgment in Secretary of State for Education and Employment and others (Respondents) ex parte Williamson (Appellant) and others in which the Court referred to the Australian High Court Scientology decision as "illuminating" on the issue of the definition of religion, noting that "the trend of authority (unsurprisingly in an age of increasingly multi-cultural societies and increasing respect for human rights) is towards a "newer, more expansive, reading" of religion (Wilson and Deane JJ in the Church of the New Faith case [Church of Scientology case] at p174, commenting on a similar trend in United States jurisprudence)".
On December 24, 2002, New Zealand Inland Revenue agreed with and adopted the rationale in the Scientology Australian High Court decision to recognize the Church of Scientology of Auckland as a charitable religious corporation and that Scientology is a religion operating for the public benefit. The government determined that the Church of Scientology "meets the requirement of being exclusively charitable in nature by advancing religion", and meets the requirement of being for the benefit of the public."
The post-apartheid government of South Africa recognized Scientology as a religion in 2000. In that year, the Home Office approved Scientology Ministers to engage in civilly binding marriages, the mechanism for religious recognition in that country. In 2007 the South African Revenue Service declared the church as tax exempt.
The Churches of Scientology are exempt from property tax as religious organizations in Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. The Church of Scientology of Montreal and the Church of Scientology of Quebec have been registered in the province of Quebec as religious organizations since December 21, 1993. Since the mid-1990s, the provinces of Alberta and Ontario have recognized the religiosity of Scientology churches and their ministers for purposes of celebrating marriages according to the Marriage Act.
Scientology was recognized as a religion in Kazakhstan in 2000.
Scientology was recognized as a religion in Krygyzstan in 2001.
Scientology was recognized as a religion in Taiwan in 2003.
Scientology was recognized as a religion in Nepal in 2004.
Scientology was recognized as a religion in Tanzania in 2004.
The Church of Scientology was registered as a religion in Sri Lanka in 2006.
Religious Bona fides
In addition to the official recognitions of the Church of Scientology, many leading academics specialized in the field of religion, philosophy, sociology and theology have studied Scientology and come to the undeniable conclusion that it is not only a bona fide religion but has a relevant place in our society today. "L. Ron Hubbard and Scientologists extend the use of instruments of rationality in the service of a mystical path, a self-transformation and a transformation of the world. It is probably for that reason that it appears unique among the religions." Régis Dericquebourg, Professor, Sociology of Religion, University of Lille III, Lille, France.
"It is clear to me that Scientology is a bona fide religion and should be considered as such."
Bryan Wilson, Reader Emeritus in Sociology, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.
"In the light of this review of Scientology in relation to the elements of the modern scientific definition of religion, it is apparent that Scientology is a religion."
M. Darrol Bryant, Professor of Religion and Culture at Renison College, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
"My conclusion is that Scientology, whilst clearly differing from the majority of Christian churches, denominations and sects in beliefs, practices and organizational structures, nevertheless satisfies the criteria conventionally applied by social scientists in distinguishing between religion and non-religion."
James A. Beckford, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, University of Warwick, England.