To obtain formal religious recognition in Italy, an organization is required to go through two steps. The first step is a process by which the entity representing the religious denomination in Italy at the national level obtains recognition as a legal personality from the Ministry of Interior. After an application is filed, the Ministry of Interior conducts an investigation into the qualifications of the applicant and, on acceptance, registers it as a recognized religious association. Once that process is completed and religious recognition from the Ministry of Interior is obtained, it is then possible to take a further step and negotiate a treaty with the state, called an Intesa. This is a special agreement with the state and is the highest form of religious recognition. The Church of Scientology has never sought to obtain religious recognition through this process. Instead, its religious organizations in Italy are registered as religious nonprofit organizations.
The purposes and activities of the Church of Scientology have been recognized as religious in nature by the highest court in Italy. The Italian Court of Cassation (Italy’s supreme judicial authority) issued a landmark decision in Bandera and others v. Italy (n.16835/97) in October 1997 in which it recognized Scientology as a religious confession (meaning that it possesses a religious purpose and engages in religious activities). The Court analyzed the criteria for defining a religion, stressed the government’s duty not to restrict religious freedom, and concluded Scientology is a religious confession.
In February and August 1998, the Minister of Finance exempted Churches of Scientology from taxation, classifying the churches as “religious, nonprofit associations.”
The Church of Scientology has also been recognized as a religion in many other judicial and administrative decisions in Italy. This unequivocal religious recognition was acknowledged by the Italian Supreme Court in another decision in 2001, in which it relied on the numerous and, by now, prevailing body of jurisprudence finding that Scientology is a religious denomination.
“…since the Church of Scientology has been recognized in the U.S. as a religious denomination, it should have been recognized in Italy and thus allowed to practice its worship and to conduct proselytising activities…”