R v Registrar General, ex parte
Segerdal and another

[From All England Law Reports, [1970] 3 All ER]

1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th JULY 1970

Ecclesiastical law - Place of meeting for religious worship - Registration of premises - Duty of Registrar General to be satisfied that premises qualify for registration - Chapel of Church of Scientology - Places of Worship Registration Act 1855, SS 2 and 3.

Ecclesiastical law - Place of meeting for religious worship - Meaning - Places of Worship Registration Act 1855, 55 2 and 3.

It is a prerequisite to the registration of premises as a 'place of meeting for religious worship' by the Registrar General, under S 3 a of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855, that the premises should not only be certified as such under S 2 b, but also that the Registrar General should himself be satisfied, following such enquiries as he thinks necessary, that they are in fact such a place; only 'when he is so satisfied' does his duty to register the building become ministerial in function (see p888 j to p889 a, p890 g, and p891 j to p892 a, post).

On the true construction of SS 2 and 3 of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855, the words 'place of meeting for religious worship' connote a place of which the principal use is for people to come together as a congregation to worship God or do reverence to a deity, and they do not include a building used largely for instruction in a philosophy of human life, e.g. Scientology (see p889 j to p890 a, p891 e and p892 c and j, post).

Decision of the Queen's Bench Division [1970] 1 All ER 1 affirmed.


For the registration of places of worship, see 13 Halsbury's Laws (3rd Edn) 32, para 48, 530, para 1140, and for a case on the subject, see 19 Digest (Repl) 577, 4175.

For the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855, SS 2 and 3, see 10 Halsbury's Statutes (3rd Edn) 1504, 1505.

Cases referred to in judgments

R v Derby Justices (1766) 1 Wm Bl 606, 96 ER 352, 19 Digest (Repl) 577, 4175.

R v Income Tax Special Purposes Comrs (1888) 21 QBD 313, 53 JP 84; sub nom R v Income Tax Special Purposes Comrs, ex parte Cape Copper Mining Co Ltd [1886-90] All ER Rep 1139, 57 LJQB 513, 59 LT 455, 28 Digest (Repl) 403, 1792.

Cases also cited

Adelaide Co of Jehovah's Witnesses v The Commonwealth (1943) 67 CLR 117.

Bond v Bond [1964] 3 All ER 346, [1967] P 39.

Brace, Re, ex parte The Debtor v Gabriel [1966] 2 All ER 38, [1966] 1 WLR 595.

British Advent Missions v Vane (V 0) and Westminster City Corpn (1954) 48 R & IT 60

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v Henning (Valuation Officer) [1963] 2 All ER 733, [1964] AC 420.

Founding Church of Scientology of Washington DC v United States (5th February 1969) unreported.

Franklin v Minister of Town and Country Planning [1947] 2 All ER 289, [1948] AC 87.

Grady, Re (1964) 39 Cal Rpr 912.

Green v Pope (1696) 1 Ld Raym 125.

Ladd v Marshall [1954] 3 All BR 745, [1954] 1 WLR 1489.

People Ex Rel et al v Board of Education of District 24 (1910) 92 NE Rep 251.

People v Woody (1964) 40 Cal Reptr 69.

R v Stokesley (Yorks) Justices, ex parte Bartrant [1956] 1 All ER 563, [1956] 1 WLR 254.

Skrzypkowski v Silvan Investments Ltd [1963] 1 All ER 886, [1963] 1 WLR 525.

Smith & Fawcett Ltd, Re [1942] 1 All ER 542, [1942] Ch 304.

Tarnpolsk (decd), Re [1958] 3 All ER 479, [1958] 1 WLR 1157.

a   Section 3, so far as material, provides: 'The said Registrar General shall cause all places of meeting for religious worship certified to him under this Act to be recorded in a book to be kept by him for that purpose at the General Register Office...'

b   Section 2, so far as material, provides: 'Every place of meeting for religious worship of Protestant Dissenters or other Protestants, and of persons professing the Roman Catholic religion... and every place of meeting for religious worship of persons professing the Jewish religion ... and every place of meeting for religious worship of any other body or denomination of persons, may be certified in writing to the Registrar General...'


This was an appeal by Michael Segerdal and the Church of Scientology of California, the applicants, from the decision of the Divisional Court (Lord Parker CJ, Ashworth and Cantley JJ), dated 14th November 1969, and reported [1970] 1 All ER 1, refusing to grant an order of mandamus, directed to the Registrar General, that he record or cause to be recorded the chapel at Saint Hill Manor, East Grinstead, Sussex, as a place of meeting for religious worship, certified to him under S 3 of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855. The facts are set out in the judgment of Lord Denning NIR.

Peter Pain QC and Gavin Lightman for the applicants. R J Parker QC and Gordon Slynn for the Registrar General.

LORD DENNING MR. We are here concerned with an estate at Saint Hill Manor, East Grinstead, in Sussex. It is occupied by a group of persons who call themselves the Church of Scientology. There is a building in the grounds which they describe as a chapel. It is separate from the other buildings. It is used for ceremonies which they have set out in a booklet entitled 'Ceremonies of the Founding Church of Scientology'. The booklet describes the church service, the marriage service, the christening and funeral services. It also sets out the creed of the Church of Scientology.

This group of persons desire to register this building, which they describe as a chapel, as a 'place of meeting for religious worship'. If it is so registered, they will obtain considerable privileges. They will have taken one step towards getting a licence to celebrate marriages there; they will be outside the jurisdiction of the Charity Commissioners; and the building itself may become exempt from paying rates. All of this depends on whether it is properly a 'place of meeting for religious worship'. The legislation on this subject goes back to 1688. The Church of England was then the established Church of the land. All other denominations were proscribed. But in 1688 a measure of tolerance was extended to Protestants who dissented from the established Church. The Toleration Act 1688 made it lawful for Protestant dissenters to meet together as a congregation or assembly for religious worship, provided always that their place of meeting was certified to the bishop or to quarter sessions and registered; and provided, also, that the place was not locked, barred or bolted but was kept open. The same measure of toleration was afterwards extended to the Roman Catholics by the Roman Catholic Relief Acts of 1791 and 1829 and to the Jews by the Religious Disabilities Act 1846. Finally, in 1855, it was extended to all denominations. It was done by the Act now before us, the Places of Religious Worship Registration Act 1855. By that Act all denominations were made free. The 1855 Act applies to 'every place of meeting for religious worship of any other body or denomination of persons'. By SS 2, 3 and 4 of the 1855 Act, such a place may be certified to the Registrar General; and on receipt of the certificate, he has to record it as a place of public worship. The Act does not say who are the persons who can give the certificate.

But there is a form of certificate given in Sch A to the Act from which it appears that a 'minister' can certify, that an 'occupier', or even an 'attendant' can certify, or indeed anyone who can show a connection subsisting between him and the place of meeting. If any such person certifies that it is a place of meeting for religious worship, then the Registrar General is to record it.

This brings me to the very first point in the case. Counsel for the applicants submits that, once a place is certified to the Registrar General as a place of meeting for religious worship, the Registrar General is bound to accept the certificate and to record the place. In this very case a Mr. Segerdal certified that the chapel of Saint Hill Manor was a place of religious worship, and asked the Registrar General to register it. Counsel said that thereupon the Registrar General had no option but to record it. He said that the duty of the Registrar General was ministerial only, and he relied for this purpose on R v Derby Justices 1. In that case, under the Toleration Act 1688, a group of Methodists gave a certificate that their place of meeting was for religious worship and asked for it to be recorded. But the justices had refused to record it. The reason for their refusal was apparently because they thought that the certificate ought to set out the particular denomination, namely that they were Methodists. The certifiers applied for a mandamus to command the justices to record it. The court issued the mandamus and said 2 :

'that in registering and recording the certificate, the justices were merely ministerial; and that after a meeting-house had been duly registered, still, if the persons resorting to it do not bring themselves within the Act of Toleration, such registering will not protect them from the penalties of the law.'
I entirely agree with that case because it is plain that the place of meeting there was truly a place of meeting for religious worship. It was for Methodists. Once it is truly such a place, it is entitled to be recorded and registered. The duty is then only ministerial. But if the place is not truly such a place, then it is not entitled to be registered; and registration can, and should, be refused. I take this view because of the extreme latitude given to the certifier. I cannot believe that a mere attendant or occupier can certify a place, when he may have little or no ground for his certification, and yet call on the Registrar General to record it straight away without enquiry. That would lead to many abuses. No, that cannot be. I think that the Registrar General has only jurisdiction to register a place so long as it is truly a place of meeting for religious worship.

The case comes, in my opinion, within the first class mentioned by Lord Esher MR in R V Income Tax Special Purposes Comrs.3. He points out that Parliament -

'.... may in effect say that, if a certain state of facts exists and is shewn to such tribunal or body before it proceeds to do certain things, it shall have jurisdiction to do such things, but not otherwise. There it is not for them conclusively to decide whether that state of facts exists, and, if they exercise the jurisdiction without its existence, what they do may be questioned, and it will be held that they have acted without jurisdiction.'
So here, if the Registrar General should record a place which is not truly a place of meeting for religious worship, he would be acting without jurisdiction. The prerequisite to his jurisdiction is that it should be truly such a place. If it truly is such a place, and certified as such, then, and then only, does the duty of the Registrar General become ministerial. This view is supported by S 8 of the Act. It provides that if it appears 'to the satisfaction of' the Registrar General that a place of meeting 'has wholly ceased' to be used as a place of meeting for religious worship, then he is to take it off the record. He has to be satisfied that it had ceased to be used. It follows that, on the initial registration, he ought likewise to be satisfied. In order to be satisfied, he is entitled to make such enquiries as he thinks fit. It would, I think, be quite wrong that the Registrar General should be compelled to act on the mere ipse dixit of a certifier, especially as the certifier may be a lowly or ignorant person, who is not capable of knowing what is a place of meeting for religious worship.

If the Registrar General does refuse, the remedy is at hand. The applicants can apply to the court for a mandamus, requiring the Registrar General to register the place. If they show that it is a place of meeting for religious worship, then the court will order the Registrar General to register it. They must adduce evidence before the court; and the court then itself will decide the matter. So also, if the Registrar General should record a place mistakenly, then no doubt his decision, as was said in R v Derby Justices, can be challenged. It could be challenged by the rating authority on a claim for exemption from rates. It could be challenged in any legal proceedings by any person who had an interest in the matter. That gives the Act a sensible and reasonable interpretation. It is for the court eventually to decide whether it is a place of meeting for religious worship.

That brings me to the next question: is this building, described as a chapel, such a place? The Registrar General made enquiries. His assistant asked the applicants for information of the beliefs of the Scientologists, the forms of their service, and so forth. On 22nd February 1967, their legal secretary wrote, sending the book entitled 'Ceremonies of the Founding Church of Scientology', adding: 'I am sure you will find the answers to the questions you posed in the various ceremonies, and particularly in the Creed.' The Registrar General, having considered the matter and made all the enquiries he thought necessary, refused to record this place as a place of meeting for religious worship. Thereupon application was made for a mandamus. It was supported by an affidavit by Mr. Segerdal. He describes himself as a minister of the Church of Scientology. He exhibits the creeds. He gives a description of what takes place at this building. On Sunday afternoons they have a service at 3.00 p.m., which is attended by a congregation of 150 to 200 persons. There is a welcoming address from the chaplain. He then reads one or other of the creeds. He delivers a sermon, covering some aspect of Scientology. After the sermon there is a moment's silence for contemplation or prayer. He gives out notices of what is to take place during the week. In addition to the Sunday afternoon service, Mr Segerdal says that there are other religious ceremonies at the chapel, such as christenings, funeral services and wedding ceremonies. He says that the chapel is also open at other times for private prayer and meditation.

On that affidavit, the applicants asked the Divisional Court 4 to command the Registrar General to register this place. The Divisional Court declined. Ashworth J, delivering the judgment of the court, considered the evidence before it. He discounted, and I think rightly, two sentences at the end of para 7 in Mr. Segerdal's affidavit, because those were inferences on the very matter which the court had to decide. He did not reject any of the statements of fact which Mr. Segerdal had made. That was quite right, because there was no application to cross-examine him. In the absence of cross-examination or any real grounds for disbelieving the affidavit, I do not think that the court should do so. The question is whether on the evidence this building can truly be said to be a place of religious worship.

We have had much discussion on the meaning of the word 'religion' and of the word 'worship', taken separately, but I think that we should take the combined phrase, 'place of meeting for religious worship' as used in the Act of 1855. It connotes to my mind a place of which the principal use is as a place where people come together as a congregation or assembly to do reverence to God. It need not be the God which the Christians worship. It may be another God, or an unknown God, but it must be reverence to a deity. There may be exceptions. For instance, Buddhist temples are properly described as places of meeting for religious worship. But, apart from exceptional cases of that kind, it seems to me the governing idea behind the words 'place of meeting for religious worship' is that it should be a place for the worship of God. I am sure that would be the meaning attached by those who framed this legislation of 1855.

Turning to the creed of the Church of Scientology, I must say that it seems to me to be more a philosophy of the existence of man or of life, rather than a religion. Religious worship means reverence or veneration of God or of a supreme being. I do not find any such reverence or veneration in the creed of this church, or, indeed, in the affidavit of Mr. Segerdal. There is considerable stress on the spirit of man. The adherents of this philosophy believe that man's spirit is everlasting and moves from one human frame to another; but still, so far as I can see, it is the spirit of man and not of God. When I look through the ceremonies and the affidavits, I am left with the feeling that there is nothing in it of reverence for God or a deity, but simply instruction in a philosophy. There may be belief in a spirit of man, but there is no belief in a spirit of God. This is borne out by the opening words of the book of ceremonies. It states:

'In a Scientology Church Service we do not use prayers, attitudes of piety, or threats of damnation. We use the facts, the truths, the understandings that have been discovered in the science of Scientology.'
That seems to me to express the real attitude of this group. When Mr. Segerdal in his affidavit uses the word 'prayer' he does not use it in its proper sense, i.e. intercession to God. When the creed uses the word 'God' (as it does in two places) it does not use it in any religious sense. There is nothing which carries with it any idea of reverence or veneration of God. The sample sermon has no word of God in it at all. It says that man has a body, mind and spirit. It emphasises man, and not God. It seems to me that God does not come into their scheme of things at all.

I do not think that this evidence is sufficient to bear out the contention that this is a place of meeting for religious worship. I find myself in agreement with the judgment of the Divisional Court 5, and I would dismiss the appeal.

WINN LJ. I entirely agree, and for myself I have really very little to add. The essential and determinative issue in this appeal is that which Lord Denning MR first dealt with, and dealt with in a manner with which I respectfully express my full agreement; i.e, if I may be permitted to paraphrase his ruling, that there is an underlying condition precedent to the effective invocation of the then ministerial function of the Registrar General to register, that the building in relation to which his function is invoked shall be, at the time, a place of meeting for religious worship; this is its qualification for registration. It would be tedious to refer to the whole of the preamble to the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 but reference to it would show clearly that it was passed in order to bring together into one Act numerous similar provisions which had been previously passed relating to the position of various congregations with regard to, or in respect of, their congregational observances, rituals and worship. The whole topic is religious worship.

I am not concerned to dwell on the question which necessarily was discussed in the course of this appeal, whether Scientology is or is not a religion. The answer to that specific question must depend so directly on the meaning that one gives, for the particular purpose and in the particular context, to the chameleon word 'religion' or 'religious'. I do not feel well qualified to discuss religion or religious topics. I think that there are two ways in which one may be somewhat disqualified for discussion of such topics. The one is if one is particularly religious in the sense of being particularly observant of the processes and rituals of a particular current religion. The other is if one is preconditioned by a certain amount of study of pre-Christian religions or religious superstitions towards thinking of religion in a very general and wide sense; indeed, in the sense in which the Greeks of dassical times used the word, one of superstition, fear, panic about the unknown, horror of what lay after death, and so on and so forth. With a mind so preconditioned, I feel that one does tend to think, when referred to the philosophy of this particular body, that their thetans, which seem to be the most important creatures or beings in their ideological world, are really very much the same as the demons of the Greeks, who came into the body at birth or on some other occasion when the owner of the body was a little careless to protect himself from their invasion, and thereafter lived in the body for many years but could only be exorcised by processes similar to those which are recommended here under the name of auditing; although auditing, I gather, is rather for the cure and instruction of the spoilt thetan in order to remove the engrams. But just as the Egyptians and the Buddhists think all the time of the transmigrating souls, so it seems to me, just superficially examining the doctrines of this particular body, that they are concerned far more with the transmigration and education and development of thetans than they are with God, in any shape or form, or any concept of a divine, superhuman, all-powerful and controlling entity.

It seems to me, therefore, that whilst it may be right - or it may not be right - to call this philosophy (because that is what it is) a religion, when adherents to it come together in any building or other place for communing one with the other-since there is no suggestion that they commune with a deity-and discussion and instruction by sermon and otherwise, they do not, so far as the evidence reveals to my own mind, observe any form whatsoever of worship; by no 'worship', if I am bound to define my terms, I mean to indicate that they do not humble themselves in reverence and recognition of the dominant power and control of any entity or being outside their own body and life.

For myself, therefore, without feeling that I am really able to understand. the subject-matter of this appeal, I have formed, for what it may be worth, a possible irrational, possibly ill-founded, but very definite opinion that here the applicants have failed to show that the Divisional Court 6 was in any sense wrong in declining to recognise that their building is a place of meeting to which persons come together as a congregation for the purpose of religious worship

I therefore would dismiss this appeal.

BUCKLEY LJ. I agree.

On the point of construction of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 and the reliance that was placed on R v Derby Justices 7, to which Lord Denning MR has referred, I would only draw attention to the fact that S 2 of the Act of 1855, with which we are principally concerned, does not provide that every place that shall be certified as being a place of meeting for religious worship shall be registered; it provides that every place of meeting for religious worship which is certified shall be registered; and the section, in my judgment, on its true interpretation, postulates that the subject-matter of any registration must be something which properly answers to the description of a place of meeting for religious worship, whether of Protestant dissenters or of Roman Catholics or of Jews or of any other body or denomination of persons. If that is right, it inevitably follows that the Registrar General, if he considers that a certificate which is submitted to him relates to some place which does not properly answer to that description, ought to reject the application, as the Registrar General I did in the present case.

On the other aspect of the matter, i.e. the question whether on the evidence the chapel at Saint Hill Manor is in truth 'a place of meeting for religious worship', I would only add this: the book of ceremonies, to which reference has been made, does not contain any form of service to be conducted at the Sunday meetings, although it contains a statement of the lines which such a service should follow, but it does contain forms of service which are considered appropriate to a wedding, a naming ceremony and a funeral, and if one looks at those forms of service, it is, in my judgment, manifest that they contain no element of worship at all.

Worship I take to be something which must have some, at least, of the following characteristics: submission to the object worshipped, veneration of that object, praise, thanksgiving, prayer or intercession. Looking at the wedding ceremony, for instance, I can find nothing in the form of ceremony set out which would not be appropriate to a purely civil and non-religious ceremony such as is conducted in a register office. It contains, I think, none of the elements which I have suggested are necessary elements of worship. I do not say that one would need to find every element in every act which could properly be described as worship, but when one finds an act which contains none of those elements, in my judgment, it cannot answer to the description of an act of worship.

If one turns from those ceremonies to the outline of the church service which would take place on other occasions, it seems to me that what is there indicated is that it is a ceremony of instruction and discussion. It is said that after the minister has welcomed the congregation, there shall be his sermon, and examples are given of the sort of subjects that would be appropriate to be discussed in such a sermon, which are aspects of the Scientological beliefs. It is said that a taped lecture of Mr. Hubbard (who is the founder of this organisation) can be included as part of the service, and that there will be a question and answer period to be held after the sermon, and that will be followed, according to the suggested outline of service, by announcements as to events to take place during the next week, after which the minister will thank the congregation and invite them to come back on another occasion. There is nothing in that outline of the service which indicates any act which I think could be properly described as worship.

Now, it is true that Mr. Segerdal in his affidavit indicates that the form of service adopted in the chapel at Saint Hill Manor is not confined to what I have so far referred to, for in his description of the service he says that one of the creeds of the Scientologists would be read by the minister and that the congregation would read the creed silently in concert with the minister, and he says, also, that after the sermon there would be a moment's silence for contemplation or prayer.

According to the evidence, there are two creeds, one of which has already been mentioned by Lord Denning MR and one which is rather fuller in its terms and which does in fact contain more references to God than the creed which is set out in the book of ceremonies; but when one comes to read those creeds, they are not, in my judgment, documents that can in themselves be regarded as constituting acts of worship; they are affirmations of faith, but they do not, I think, partake of the character of worship. The fact that in other faiths the recital of a creed may very probably take place in the course of a religious service which is undoubtedly an act of worship does not mean that any creed used on any occasion will itself constitute an act of worship.

In my judgment, the evidence indicates that the sort of ceremony which takes place on a Sunday afternoon in this chapel at Saint Hill Manor is a ceremony of instruction in the tenets of this particular body, but it is not a ceremony which can be properly described as constituting worship, and consequently I agree that it has not been established that this chapel is a place of meeting for religious worship; and so, in my judgment, this appeal should be dismissed on the ground that the chapel is in truth not a place to which the section has any application.

Appeal dismissed. Leave to appeal to the House of Lords refused.

Solicitors: Lawrence Alkin & Co (for the applicants); Solicitor, Department of Health and Social Security.

Rosalie Long Barrister-at-Law.

  1. (1766) 1 Wm Bl 606
  2. (1766) 1 Wm Bl at 607
  3. (1888) 21 QBD 313 at 319, cf [1886-90] All ER Rep 1139 at 1141
  4. (1970) 1 All ER 1, [1970] 1 QB 430
  5. (1970) 1 All ER 1, [1970] 1 QB 430
  6. (1970) 1 All ER 1, [1970] 1 QB 430
  7. (1766) 1 Wm Bl 606

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Last updated 26 January 1997
by Chris Owen (co@nvg.unit.no)