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Neil Gaiman’s Nephew Fights for Scientology Marriage Rights in the UK

CalcioliHodkinWe’ve been getting a lot of mail from readers about an interesting legal case happening in London. We first mentioned it last December, and now it’s reached a fascinating stage: The UK’s highest court is having a hard time deciding whether or not Scientology’s churches are “places of worship.”

Before you assume that this is a major legal showdown which will affect the very existence of Scientology in England, put down the cans, step away from the e-meter, and take a deep breath.

Actually, the case is a bit of a stunt, it may hand the church in England something of a PR coup but will hardly stem the tide of its poor numbers there, and it will certainly have no effect on Scientology here in its home country of the United States, where this case would never happen.

Let us explain.

In England, you can get married in all sorts of interesting places. Since the Marriage Act 1994, the UK relaxed a bit and allowed couples to get married outside of churches. As the legislator behind the change — former Conservative MP Gyles Brandreth — explained years later to the BBC, “not everyone was religious,” and he wanted to give people an opportunity to get married in more untraditional ways. Still, there are restrictions. If you don’t want a church wedding, but you want something more interesting than getting married at the courthouse (or “registry office” as they say across the pond), you can tie the knot in more unusual venues — but they still must be registered for ceremonies.

The interest in religious weddings is declining in England and Wales, but some people do still want to get hitched in a house of worship. But here again, the rules are rather restrictive. The English government only recognizes a limited number of religions to be eligible, and Scientology is not one of them.

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Why not? Because in 1970, the English government decided that Scientology “orgs” are not actually “places of worship.”

So recently, a charismatic young couple named Alessandro Calcioli and Louisa Hodkin sued because they could not get an official religious wedding in the Scientology chapel in London. They claimed religious discrimination, but they lost the case in December. Now it’s in the country’s highest court on appeal, and the court’s justices are reportedly struggling to make a decision. The matter has now been pushed back to October.

As we said, a case like this would never arise in the U.S., and that’s because of the First Amendment to our Constitution. The government here is prohibited from deciding what is or isn’t a church or religion. (The IRS, however, does decide which groups get tax-exempt status. But that’s a hornet’s nest for another day.)

This is very much a local issue which only applies to England and Wales — and for years now, Scientology has not been doing very well in a country that once was home to its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. According to the most recent census numbers, which were released in December, England and Wales are home to only 2,418 Scientologists — we pointed out that Scientologists are vastly outnumbered by adherents of the Jedi faith (176,632).

Like in the United States, in England Scientology’s fortunes are waning as longtime, loyal members who still admire Hubbard break away because of the controversial leadership of David Miscavige.

But the church is always looking for a creative boost to its image. And we have to hand it to them, in this marriage issue they’ve found fertile ground.

And a very canny couple. Hodkin is the daughter of a prominent London solicitor, Peter Hodkin, who is also a Scientologist donor. Alessandro Calcioli, meanwhile, is the son of Lizzy (Gaiman) Calcioli, the sister of prominent fantasy and sci fi author Neil Gaiman, and Neil and Lizzy are children to the late David Gaiman, once Scientology’s spokesman in the UK.

 
DavidGaimanFamily

 
That’s little Alessandro in the front row, center, right in front of his grandad, David, who has his son Neil standing behind him. Today, Alessandro’s a real looker, and he took this selfie for his Flickr, which indicates that he apparently goes by “Ale”…

 
Alessandro_Calcioli

 
As we wrote previously, Neil Gaiman grew up a passionate Scientologist but gave it up sometime in his 20s or 30s. We tend to believe him when he says that he’s no longer a Scientologist, but he’s still surrounded by some of the most fanatical members of the church anywhere. His mother Sheila is still giving away huge sums to the church, he has one sister in the Sea Org working in Los Angeles, and even his ex-wife is running an “Ideal Org” in the Twin Cities.

And apparently, his nephew has agreed to be part of a test case about marriage rights in England.

We feel for the justices who are trying to decide this issue by sifting through Scientology’s misleading disinformation. Take this passage from an article about a recent hearing which appeared in the Independent:

After reading out a prayer used in every Scientology service, which says, ”May the owner of the universe enable all men to reach an understanding of their spiritual nature… May God let it be so,” Lord Wilson asked: “Just looking at that, how is that not a manifestation of religious worship?”

Oh, brother. As any honest Scientologist will tell you, Sunday “services” are put on as a show for public relations. Scientology is really all about the pursuit of exploring the universe within yourself, usually on your own or with one other person (an auditor), and has nothing to do with gathering in groups for “worship” or “prayer.” Scientology is about becoming a god, not worshiping one.

Again, in the U.S., our government would never concern itself with these distinctions. We’re only raising these issues because the English government has to decide if Scientology is “worship.”

But even though Scientology orgs pretty clearly aren’t “places of worship,” we really don’t see why Scientologist couples shouldn’t get married there. Even with the Marriage Act 1994, it seems to us that England is still way too uptight about where people exchange rings and get shitfaced afterwards. But what do we know.

Anyway, we have a feeling that Hodkin and Calcioli will end up winning this case, Scientology will briefly get some positive publicity out of it, but then the church’s troubles in the UK will continue.

Now, if we could only get Uncle Neil to have a chat with us about his family’s predilection for L. Ron Hubbard, that would really be something.

 
Let’s get back to our regular weekly feature, Sunday Funnnies, where we take a look at the fun mailers and fliers that have been sent to us by our tipsters.

We’re disappointed we missed this lecture yesterday, which would have given us the one simple datum to get us to OT!

 
ThresholdOT

 
There’s still time, however, to get your cocktail attire and your checkbook ready for what looks to be an entertaining night! (Hey, what happened to Chill E.B.?)

 
AknuValley

 
Wow, just look what this person got out of A History of Man. Just imagine what it’s going to do for PZ Myers! (PZ told us he’s been reading the book. He didn’t say anything about exteriorizing, though.)

 
BasicsFlier

 
This next pair promotes an event that apparently got pushed back a week. Mike Rinder has been writing about the remarkable delay and then final delivery of this 20-year retrospective of better times for Scientology — when, in 1993, the church got tax-exempt status from the IRS.

According to Rinder, this year’s “Maiden Voyage” event was supplanted by this celebration. Normally, each summer around this time Scientology has its biggest donors fly out to spend a week or so to celebrate the anniversary of the cruise ship Freewinds. Instead, Miscavige planned this party at “Flag,” the spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, Florida. But then it was apparently moved back a week, which is very unusual. Now, Rinder says, Miscavige has announced that a large tent is being set up in Clearwater so the annual October gala of the International Association of Scientologists (IAS) can be held there rather than at Saint Hill Manor in England.

We have to say, these are rather surprising changes. Are they signs that the church’s crises are catching up with Miscavige? Discuss.

 
TurningPointFlier

TurningPointFlier2

 
And finally, it’s good to see that the latest the graduating class of Homo Novis at the Nashville Celebrity Centre is ready to clear the planet…

 
NashGrad1NashGrad2

 
Thanks again to our great tipsters! Keep those mailers and fliers coming!

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on July 21, 2013 at 09:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to tonyo94@gmail.com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

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