Chair of East London Humanists Paul Kaufman discusses the status of religion


- Credit: Archant

Scientologists recently hit the headlines when the first officially approved wedding in a Church of Scientology Chapel was celebrated in London. This follows recognition of Scientology as a religion by the Supreme Court in December.

Elevation to the status of a religion throws an interesting spotlight on the privileged position which the religious enjoy, even in a country such as ours which many think is relatively secular.

Can we now look forward, for example, to the appearance of a Scientologist on Thought for the Day on Radio 4? Representatives of most religions have been able to air their views on their topic of choice. The BBC has consistently denied this opportunity to the ethical non-religious.

Perhaps Scientologists will be given a chance to participate in the Armistice Day ceremony. Every other religion has been allowed, from Anglicans to Zoroastrians. The long-running campaign by Humanists to take part has met a brick wall.

And is there any reason why Scientologists should not have state-funded free schools, with the same rights as other religious schools to pick and choose pupils and staff based on their beliefs? Perhaps the biggest coup will be the fantastic tax breaks which religious status attracts.

None of this is intended as an attack on Scientology or the decision of the Supreme Court. Scientology, incorporated by L Ron Hubbard in 1953, is just a late addition to the many faiths which have come and gone since mankind first evolved many millennia ago. Humanists firmly believe in freedom of religion and belief, provided it causes no harm to others. As a faith, Scientology is no more or less rational than any other. All faiths are, by definition, based on convictions which cannot be proved.

However, it is hoped that the Supreme Court decision will bring into sharp focus the arguments for a fully secular society where all religions and beliefs, including lack of religious belief, receive equal status and the mere fact of being religious does not attract any special deference or privileges.