Church of Scientology Decision Protecting Religious Freedom in European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously in favor of two Scientology religious groups in Russia, finding that they have the right to be registered as religious organizations under Russian law. This decision determines that members of the Church of Scientology of Surgut and the Church of Scientology of Nizhnekamsk have the right to religious freedom and freedom of association pursuant to Articles 9 and 11 of the European Human Rights Convention Kimlya and Others v. Russia (application nos. 76836/01 and 32782/03). The Church's human rights counsel, Bill Walsh, stated: "The judgment of the European Court of Human Rights today is a great victory for religious freedom in Russia and in all 47 member countries of the Council of Europe. The case is given the highest rating of importance by the Court itself as it effectively kills the repressive 15 Year Rule, denying religious organizations rights until they have existed in the country for 15 years. Moreover, the ruling will have great impact on countries throughout the European Community that have passed similar restrictions to repress religious freedom. So it is not only a victory for religious freedom in Russia, but for religious freedom everywhere in the Council of Europe."
In 1997, the Russian government passed laws preventing religious organizations from forming legally unless they could prove they had been in existence in their respective state(s) for 15 years. Such a law obviously discriminates against religions not established in a state for 15 years and has now been ruled as unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights.
In reaching this decision, the Court "established that the applicants were unable to obtain recognition and effective enjoyment of their rights to freedom of religion and association in any organisational form. The first applicant could not obtain registration of the Scientology group as a non-religious legal entity because it was considered to be a religious community by the Russian authorities. The applications for registration as a religious organisation submitted by the first and second applicants as founders of their respective groups… were denied by reference to the insufficient period of the groups' existence. Finally, the restricted status of a religious group for which they qualified… conveyed no practical or effective benefits to them as such a group was deprived of legal personality, property rights and the legal capacity to protect the interests of its members and was also severely hampered in the fundamental aspects of its religious functions.¨ Accordingly, the Court finds that there has been an interference with the applicants' rights under Article 9 interpreted in the light of Article 11."
Along with the recent decision of the Court in favor of the right of the Moscow Church of Scientology to be registered as a religious organization under the Religion law, these cases represent precedent-setting rulings that guarantee the freedom of religion and right of association for Scientologists and people of all faiths throughout the 47 nations that comprise the Council of Europe.
The Court concluded that "In the light of the foregoing considerations, the Court finds that the interference with the applicants' rights to freedom of religion and association cannot be said to have been "necessary in a democratic society." There has therefore been a violation of Article 9 of the Convention, interpreted in the light of Article 11."
The Russian Scientology Church in St. Petersburg also has cases pending in the European Court of Human Rights for similar discriminatory harassment concerning their registration.
The Scientology religion was founded by L. Ron Hubbard. The first church was established in the United States in 1954. It has grown to more than 8,500 churches, missions and affiliated groups and millions of members in 165 nations. The Russian Federation has more than 70 Scientology Churches and missions from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok.