BUILDINGS used for "public religious worship" are exempt from
business rates, but a Mormon temple in Lancashire to which only
those considered "worthy" were admitted was denied that exemption,
and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that this did
not interfere with the exercise by the church members of their
right to freedom of religion.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) has
two temples in the UK: one in London, and the other in Preston,
Lancashire. The temple is considered to be the house of the Lord,
and one of the holiest places on earth; entry to the temple is
restricted to the members who are deemed worthy, and who hold a
"recommend" [a card that gives you permission to enter the temple
for one year]. Congregational services at the Preston temple are
attended by an average of 950 people a week.
Under the Local Government Finance Act 1988, premises used for
charitable purposes are entitled to charity business-rates relief,
which cuts the amount of rates payable by 80 per cent. Places of
"public religious worship" are exempt from rates. The Preston
temple has a liability to pay only 20-per-cent rates as a building
used for charitable purposes, but it was refused the exemption
reserved for places of "public religious worship".
The Mormon Church challenged the denial of that exemption. The
Lancashire Valuation Tribunal granted the exemption, but the Lands
Tribunal overturned that decision. The Mormon Church appealed
unsuccessfully to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. It
then complained to the ECHR, saying that the UK had violated its
rights under the European Convention for the Protection of Human
Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
It argued that its temple worship should be treated with the
same respect, and accorded the same tax-exempt treatment, as the
worship facilities of the Church of England and of other
denominations. Temple worship, by its very nature, as understood by
its believers, required that only those who voluntarily lived by
the kinds of commitments made in the temple should be allowed to
participate, the Mormon Church said; and it was not a case of
worship being made private for the purpose of being exclusive, or
to provide private benefit.
It alleged that the denial of the full-rates exemption was a
violation of its members' right to manifest their religious
beliefs, and was therefore in breach of article 9 of the
Convention. It further alleged that the levying of the business
rate amounted to a deprivation of its possessions, and that that
was discriminatory, because it applied to the Mormons and not to
other religious organisations.
The Government said that any of the places of worship of the
Mormon Church, such as its chapels, which were open to the public,
had the benefit of the exemption. Church of England churches were
usually open to the public, but its religious buildings run by
closed orders or schools, or college chapels, might not be. Where
such buildings were not open to the public they were not exempt
from rates, the Government argued.
The ECHR said that the Mormon Church was not in a significantly
different position from other churches because of its doctrine
concerning worship in its temples, so as to call it differential
treatment involving exemption from rates, since other faiths
likewise did not allow public access to certain places of worship
for doctrinal reasons.
Any prejudice caused to the Mormon Church by the operation of
the 1988 Act was reasonably and objectively justified, the ECHR
said. States had a certain margin of appreciation in deciding
whether, and to what extent, interference was necessary, and had a
wide margin when it came to general measures of social and economic
strategy. That was because, given their direct knowledge of their
society and its needs, national authorities were, in principle,
better placed than international judges to appreciate what was "in
the public interest", the ECHR said.
Neither in its objects nor in its effect did the 1988 Act have
anything to do with the legitimacy of Mormon beliefs, the ECHR
said. The Act was neutral, in that it was the same for all
religious groups as regards the manifestation of religious beliefs
in private, and produced exactly the same negative consequences for
the officially established Christian Church in England.
The ECHR unanimously found that there had been no violation of
the human rights of the Mormons. Two of the ECHR judges added that
tax exemption was a privilege and not a right, and that the
application of that privilege did not interfere with the exercise
of the right to freedom of religion.
Man with 'delusional beliefs' can make tithing donation,
A MAN who believes that he is a prophet, second only in
importance to the Holy Trinity, has been allowed to make a gift of
£6900 to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons)
after a court ruled that his irrational beliefs do not prevent him
from also holding to standard religious beliefs, writes Gavin
The 40-year-old, whose identity is protected by a court
order and can be referred to only by the initials MS, suffers from
bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective
disorder. He is subject to a Community Treatment order, and lives
in supported accommodation. The local county council has been
appointed as his deputy to protect his financial
MS wanted to make the donation as a tithe from a bequest
of £68,773. His mother opposed this, saying that "we have no idea
how much pressure is put upon [MS] by his church to donate or tithe
his money." A judge in the Court of Protection said that this was
another way of saying that there was no evidence that any pressure
had been applied.
The court heard from a consultant psychiatrist who said
that MS's "beliefs about the tithe are an extension of his
delusions, and stem directly from them". But, the judge said, MS
described this position as showing "a lack of insight" into his
faith, and that tithing was "an Old and New Testament principle
that is practised in my church".
In a letter to the court, MS said that it was
"busybodyism of a gross and outrageous sort . . . to deny me the
sacred privilege of giving to my church as I see fit, and in
accordance with my church's understanding of tithing".
The judge said that "sometimes, it can be difficult to
distinguish between a religious delusion and a particular religious
belief or practice. There is a risk of pathologising religious
beliefs when listening to content alone.
"It is important to look at the degree of conviction,
the pervasiveness of beliefs, the context of the individual's
spiritual history, and deviations from conventional religious
beliefs and practices when determining whether a religious belief
is authentic or delusional."
On the question of tithing, the judge said: "It is not
significant 'whether he was able to afford this' - a tithe is set
at ten per cent, income tax rather higher. . . Nor is it
necessarily significant whether all or most Christians now
The judge said that it was delusional for MS to believe
that he was a prophet, but "that does not mean that all of his
religious beliefs are delusional, or compromised by the presence of
"The fact that a person has a grandiose belief with a
religious content does not demonstrate that the whole of their
religion is delusionally based and caused by mental illness. It may
simply be that the content of their belief-system when they become
ill reflects and accentuates pre-existing interests, concerns, and
preoccupations: in this case, a concern with religious and moral
The judge ruled that MS had the mental capacity to
decide whether or not to tithe his inheritance, and allowed the
gift to be made.