UK: Crown Prosecution Service gives Scientologists a measure of legal protection

CPS gives Scientologists same legal protection as mainstream religions

England’s Crown Prosecution Service has reportedly granted the controversial Church of Scientology a measure of protection — but it does not follow that Scientology’s critics will no longer be able to call the movement a ‘cult’.

This is not immediately clear from this news item reported in the Daily Mail:

The Crown Prosecution Service has decided that anyone who attacks Scientology can be prosecuted under faith hate laws.

The move will for the first time provide the controversial Church of Scientology – described by some as a cult – the same protection as other mainstream religions.


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The Racial and Religious Hatred Act came into effect in 2007, making it a criminal offence to use threatening words or behaviour with the intention of stirring up hatred against any group of people because of their religious beliefs or their lack of religious beliefs.

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Critics of the organisation, whose members include Tom Cruise and John Travolta, attacked the decision last night, saying it would encourage Scientologists to push for official recognition in Britain.

The Mail on Sunday understands the CPS passed down the guidance after it received legal advice from the Treasury Counsel to regard the group as a religion alongside Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

It means that any alleged offenders who ‘abuse’ or ‘threaten’ the Church of Scientology can be charged under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006.

It is understood the decision was made this month after the Police Diversity Directorate asked the CPS to clarify its position on the organisation.

It follows the arrest last summer of a 15-year-old boy for calling Scientology a ‘dangerous cult’ during a demonstration outside the Church’s £23million headquarters in London.
[…]

As far back as July 1968, it was described in Parliament by a Government Minister as an organisation that has ‘authoritarian principles and practices’ that are a ‘potential menace to the personality and wellbeing of those so deluded as to become its followers’. [Full report: Enquiry into the Practice and Effects of ScientologyRNB]

Ian Harris, founder of the Cult Information Centre, said last night: ‘Scientology has always wanted to be recognised as a religion but it doesn’t even have a God. This decision is news to me and it is frankly quite upsetting and shocking.

‘The Church of Scientology will be delighted and will want to use this to give themselves more credibility.’

A CPS spokesman said: ‘It is ultimately for the courts to decide how to interpret legislation.’
[…]

– Source: CPS gives Scientologists same legal protection as mainstream religions, James Millbank and Jonathan Petre, Daily Mail (UK), Mar. 7, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

As far as we can determine there has, at the time of this writing, been no official confirmation. However, even if the CPS would regard Scientology as a religion, it still does not follow that it will no longer be possible to criticize the cult. After all, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act primarily addresses threats. Anti-Scientology demonstrations such as those held by Anonymous do not include threats (though Scientologists frequently falsely accuse the group — and other critics — of doing so).

Note this section from the Racial and Religious Hatred Act:

29J    Protection of freedom of expression

Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytising or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practising their religion or belief system.

– Source: Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006, Office of Public Sector Information, UK

Can critics continue to call Scientology a cult? Sure, according the the CPS itself:

A teenager who was facing legal action for calling the Church of Scientology a “cult” has today been told he will not be taken to court.

The Crown Prosecution Service ruled the word was neither “abusive or insulting” to the church and no further action would be taken against the boy.

– Source: Schoolboy avoids prosecution for branding Scientology a cult, The Guardian, May 23, 2008 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

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This post was last updated: Mar. 10, 2009