The Church of Scientology is officially recognized as a religion in Spain. On 31 October 2007, the National Court in Madrid issued a unanimous landmark decision affirming the right to religious freedom in Spain by recognizing that the National Church of Scientology of Spain is a religious organization entitled to the full panoply of religious rights that flow from entry in the government’s Registry of Religious Entities.
This recognition marked the end of an era in which Spanish Scientologists were forced to fight for their rights to religious freedom. It vindicated the Church of Scientology in Spain and signaled a new beginning for all Spanish Scientologists.
“The court rules that we must acquit and thus do acquit without reservation the defendants.”
Today there is no question of Scientology’s legitimate status as one of the world religions. Scientology is fully developed in its theology, religious practice and organization. The breadth and scope of the religion include more than eleven thousand Churches of Scientology, missions and related organizations in countries all over the world.
Landmark Religious Freedom Decision
The Church of Scientology decision is extremely significant for a number of reasons. First, the National Court recognized the legal status of the National Church of Scientology of Spain as a “religious group” and its fundamental right, in conjunction with its parishioners, to the collective practice and manifestation of religious freedom.
Second, the National Court determined, after examining the evidence in the case, that no public-order issue existed and that the Church pursued religious purposes as required by Article 3.2 of the Organic Law of Religious Freedom.
Third, the National Court determined that the religious freedom principles and religious-registration criteria developed and created by the European Human Rights Court for application throughout Europe and by the Spanish Constitutional Court for application in Spain, must apply to the Church of Scientology and the Scientology religion.
The National Court thoroughly examined the Church of Scientology formative documents, aims and purposes to unequivocally determine that the National Church of Scientology of Spain has the right to be registered as a religion under Spanish law.
Specifically, the National Court determined that the right of the Church of Scientology to register as a religious organization constitutes a manifestation of its right to religious freedom and its right to the collective practice of the Scientology religion. In reaching this conclusion, the Court reaffirmed the principle:
That the registration of a religious entity in the Registry implies, above all, the recognition of its legal status as a religious group, that is, the identification and admission in the Law of a group of people that intend to practice, with immunity from coercion, their fundamental right to the collective practice of religious freedom as it is established by Article 5.2 of the Spanish Religious Freedom Law.
The National Court also relied on decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, most notably the Human Rights Court’s unanimous decision of 5 April 2007, in Church of Scientology Moscow v. Russia, affirming that the Church of Scientology is entitled to the rights and protections of religious freedom that flow to religious organizations pursuant to Article 9 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), an international human rights treaty that Spain has signed and ratified. The Human Rights Court enunciated fundamental principles of religious freedom and pluralism in its decision to uphold the religious freedom rights of Scientologists and their religious associations.
The National Court’s decision is extremely significant because it constitutes another official recognition of the Church of Scientology as a religious organization in Europe and by a prominent member state of the European Union. The National Court’s decision mandates that Scientologists and their religious associations be afforded the same rights and privileges as members of other registered religious organizations in Spain.
As well, the National Court’s reliance on the judgment of the Strasbourg Court in Church of Scientology Moscow v. Russia to find that the Church of Scientology is entitled to be registered as a religious organization in Spain demonstrates that the fundamental principles of religious freedom articulated in the Russian case apply throughout the forty-seven member states that comprise the Council of Europe and have signed and ratified the ECHR. The National Court’s decision evidences that the Church of Scientology is entitled to the full panoply of religious freedom rights guaranteed by the ECHR in every country that has signed and ratified the treaty.
Scientology Right to Religious Entity Registration “As a Manifestation of its Right to Freedom of Religion”
In its decision overturning the refusal by the Ministry of Justice to register the Church as a religious organization, the National Court determined that the Church of Scientology of Spain had a right to be registered as a religious entity “as a manifestation of its right of freedom of religion.”
The Spanish Court noted that this right to religious freedom is protected by Article 16 of the Spanish Constitution. The Court also noted that the Church of Scientology’s request for religious registration implicated fundamental rights that, in accordance with Article 10.2 of the Constitution, must be interpreted pursuant to the European Human Rights Convention.
In light of the need to adhere to fundamental international human rights authority, the Spanish Court also relied upon key principles regarding religious freedom developed and articulated by the European Human Rights Court. The Court noted that the European Human Rights Court has declared that the right to religious freedom, protected by Article 9 of the ECHR, “constitute[s] one of the pillars of democratic society” and that this freedom must be related to the need to secure religious pluralism. The Court also noted that “the right to religious liberty as understood by the [ECHR] excludes any evaluation on the part of the State regarding the legitimacy of religious beliefs or their means of expression.” As well, the Court noted that the “duty of neutrality and impartiality” mandated by Article 9 of the ECHR is “incompatible with this evaluation of the legitimacy of beliefs.”
Significantly, the Spanish Court observed that these fundamental principles of religious liberty “have been reaffirmed” in recent judgments by the European Human Rights Court, including the judgment of the Strasbourg Court in Church of Scientology Moscow v. Russia.
The Court then noted that the Spanish Constitutional Court, in its decision of 15 February 2001 (46/01), established the criteria in religious freedom cases for interpretation of these fundamental principles developed by the Human Rights Court. The Court summarized these criteria, as follows:
- The recognition of the legal status of an organization as a “religious group” and their “fundamental right to the collective practice of religious freedom as it is established by Article 5.2 of the Spanish Religious Freedom Law” free from coercion.
- The specified “status” of religious entity granted by registration in the Registry is broad and is meant not only to recognize the legality of a religious entity. It also protects concrete manifestations of religion that “in the exercise of their fundamental rights the members of the group or the registered community perform” in order to ensure that they “be facilitated in such a manner to allow the collective exercise of religious liberty without coercion, obstacles or disturbances of any kind.”
- The registration process “does not empower the State” to have any control over evaluating whether religious beliefs or the means used to express such beliefs are legitimate.
- As registration is an essential manifestation of religious freedom, any attempt by the State to restrict that right is subject to strict scrutiny; accordingly, authorities responsible for registration may not exercise discretionary power to deny registration “but rather its acts are regulated.”
Applying these fundamental religious freedom principles and religious-registration criteria to this case, the Court examined evidence documenting the Scientology religion’s founding or establishment in Spain, its religious aims and purposes, its religious activities and functions, its rules of functioning, its representative organizations and its management entities.
No Public Order Violations
In addition, pursuant to Article 3.2 of the Organic Law of Religious Freedom, the Court also examined the record to determine whether the State could impose limitations to the Church’s right to religious freedom due to public order or due to the Church pursuing non-religious aims. The Court found that no such evidence existed:
The positive conclusion favorable to its consideration as a religious entity emerges ‘prima facie’ from its bylaws as well as from the doctrine/teachings presented, and also from the fact that the association is similar to others that are rightfully registered in official registries in countries of similar jurisprudence and culture.
Based on these findings, the Court “declare[d] the right of the [National Church of Scientology of Spain] to its registration in the Registry of Religious Entities of the Ministry of Justice.”
Ramifications: Fundamental Rights Flowing from Registration
The Spanish National Court’s determination that the Church of Scientology must be treated as a “religious group” entitled to the rights and protections that flow to such groups pursuant to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Spanish Constitution represents yet another judicial pronouncement recognizing that the Church of Scientology must be treated no differently from other religious organizations and that the Church and its parishioners are entitled to the right to religious freedom protected by international human rights law and national law.
It is also important to note that a number of fundamental rights flow from religious registration in Spain. The Spanish Constitutional Court, in its decision of 15 February 2001, identified some of the key benefits that occur with registration, including “an attitude of respect to the creed and its religious practices” by the State, the provision of “required protection” of religious practices by the State, and affirmative action by the State regarding “the real and effective enforcement” of the rights of the Church of Scientology and its parishioners to religious freedom. The Constitutional Court has also noted the following:
- Recognition provides a religious organization with a given status which is evidenced in the full independence attributed by Article 6.1 of the Organic Religion Law, whereby religious institutions or confessions “may establish their own rules of organization, internal regimen and staff scheme.” This power of self-regulation may include determination of the structure of the institutions established for fulfilling their goals.
- Recognition requires “due respect” for the religious beliefs of such organizations. Recognition also provides specific protection against those who “with violence, threaten, riot, prevent, interrupt, or disturb the acts, functions, ceremonies or manifestations of the religious confessions recorded in the corresponding public Registration of the Ministry of Justice….”
- Recognition establishes that “marriage consent may be given, as established by registered religious confessions, in the conditions agreed with the State or otherwise authorized by its legislation,” thus attributing to the marriage celebrated in any established religious form the due civil effects, as specified in the law.
- Registration provides the foundation for the adoption of “measures necessary to facilitate religious assistance at military, hospital, health care, prison and other establishments and also the religious training at public teaching centers.”
Spanish Experts Agree: Scientology a World Religion
The National Court’s decision confirms the considered opinions of Spain’s foremost experts in the fields of comparative religion, history of religion, religious studies and sociology, all of whom unanimously agree that Scientology is a religion. Distinguished Spanish scholars who have reached this conclusion include Urbano Alonso Galan, Doctor of Philosophy and Licentiate of Theology, Gregorian University and Saint Bonaventure Pontifical Faculty, Rome (Scientology: A True Religion), and Dionisio Llamazares, Professor of Ecclesiastic Law, University Complutense de Madrid (Legal Study of Religious Denominations In Spanish Law).
Dr. Galan, one of the foremost religious scholars in the world who has served as a moderator in Ecumenical Congresses directed by the Vatican and who worked with Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI on religious matters, studied Scientology for many years through review of written Scriptures and observance of religious ceremonies and practices in several countries. He concludes:
From my viewpoint as a theologian and philosopher, and having studied the religion of Scientology in its writings and practices, I can strongly affirm that Scientology is a religion, in the very fullest sense. The community of persons united with a complex body of beliefs in its search for the infinite, the sacred, searching to place man into his proper relationship with the divine, is what one encounters in examining the beliefs and practices of the religion of Scientology.
This conclusion that Scientology is a religion by the leading Spanish experts mirrors the opinions of the foremost experts from other countries around the world. (See Experts Conclude: Scientology Is a True World Religion)
The Church of Scientology is a world religion that is growing throughout the world and in Spain today. Currently Spain is home to thousands of Scientologists who practice their faith and worship in Scientology Churches, missions and related groups throughout the country.
The 31 October 2007 decision of the National Court in Madrid recognizing the right of the National Church of Scientology of Spain to be registered as a religious entity reaffirms and definitively establishes what human rights experts, academics and numerous international and national courts have already found: Scientology is a bona fide religion and the Church of Scientology is a religious community entitled to the full panoply of human rights that flow to such organizations and their parishioners.