LDS temple in Preston not a “place of public religious worship”

The Fourth Section ECtHR has handed down its judgment in Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v United Kingdom [2014] ECHR 227. The case was an appeal from a House of Lords decision in 2008 that the Church’s temple in Preston did not qualify as a “place of public religious worship” for exemption from non-domestic rates because access to the temple was restricted only to those members of the Church in sufficiently good standing to have a “temple recommend” from their bishop.

The Church complained in particular that the refusal to its temple of the exemption from business rates amounted to discrimination on religious grounds, in breach of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience, and religion). The Fourth Section held that there had been no violation: the issue was not about manifestation but whether or not the place of worship was open to the public:

“… the Court notes that all the applicant’s places of worship that are open to the public, such as its chapels and stake centres, had the benefit of the full exemption from rates. Indeed, the stake centre situated on the same site in Preston as the temple was accepted as a “place of public religious worship”, benefiting from the statutory exemption … The temple itself, which is not open to the public, does not attract the full exemption, but does benefit from an 80% reduction in rates in view of its use for charitable purposes … This 80% reduction can be seen as reflecting the elements of public benefit which the applicant identifies as flowing from the nature of temple worship. Neither in its objects nor in its effects does the legislation prompting the contested measure go to the legitimacy of Mormon beliefs. The legislation is neutral, in that it is the same for all religious groups as regards the manifestation of religious beliefs in private; and indeed produces exactly the same negative consequences for the officially established Christian Church in England (the Church of England) as far as private chapels are concerned [para 34: my italics].

We hope to post a more detailed analysis of the judgment when we have had the opportunity to digest it.

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