Up: Martin Poulter > Scientology Criticism > UK Media Archive

Scientology Wins Home Office Status As Religion

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday, December 28, 1996 (excerpted)

By Victoria Combe, Churches Correspondent

LEADERS of the sect of Scientology are to be allowed to enter the United Kingdom as recognised religious ministers following a revision in Home Office immigration guidelines. Scientology has previously been defined as a cult by the Home Office. In 1968 it was deemed "socially harmful". Members were prohibited from entering the country to study or to minister.

The rules were softened in 1980 and cases were judged individually but no scientologists qualified for the provision for missionaries and religious ministers until this month. The sect was informed of the change by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Office via a letter to their solicitors on Dec 10. The news was welcomed as a "breakthrough" by the sect which has its headquarters in East Grinstead, Sussex, and has been struggling to be accepted as a mainstream church since its inception in 1954.

Scientology, which has several celebrity members including John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, claims to have 100,000 members in Britain and 8 million worldwide. It has 250 ministers working in Britain and many more are expected to take advantage of the change in regulations. Greg Ryerson, a spokesman for the UK scientologists, said: This is good news and it is an indication that we have established ourselves. It was inevitable that it would happen." Graeme Wilson, of the scientologists' Office of Special Affairs, said: "Essentially we have passed the test of time, although along the way we have had to contend with the suspicion, misinformation and intolerance that meets any new religion. He added: "We take this news as proof of the growing religious tolerance and respect for rights in the United Kingdom."

Scientology is recognised as a religion by the Armed Forces and was granted permission by the Independent Television Commission to run a series of advertisements on cable television. The organisation has also reapplied for charitable status in Britain in September, but the application is still pending. A spokesman for the Home Office said: "Previously we did not see Scientology as a religion but as a cult. "That position has changed which shows that we do what we say which is to keep things under continual review". The 1971 Immigration Act provides provision for religious ministers to enter the country providing they can prove experience of ministry, religious training and that they are invited by a congregation in Britain.

Scientology was started by L Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer, in 1954 and his followers believe that only through understanding themselves as spiritual beings can they understand the "supreme being"...

(end of extract from London Daily Telegraph, Dec 28th 1996)

Up: Martin Poulter > Scientology Criticism > UK Media Archive