On religious freedom and religious licence


Scientology is a body of beliefs and practices created in 1954 by American science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard (1911–86). After developing the pseudoscience Dianetics after WW II as an alternative to psychiatry, Hubbard lost the rights to its seminal publication Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health in 1953. He then founded the Church of Scientology which in the USA gave certain exemptions from taxation. [Wikipedia]

An attempt to have the CofS registered as a charity in the UK failed in 1999

Then in December 2013:-

A Supreme Court (UK) case was brought by Louisa Hodkin after she was told that a Church of Scientology chapel in central London could not be used to conduct weddings. 

Five Supreme Court judges ruled yesterday that the church was a place of meeting for religious worship and that she should be able to get married there. They ruled that religion did not have to involve worshipping a god.

So it seems to be possible to invent a religion and to have it accepted as such under English Law. Although this may take a little time.

As a thought-experiment I have considered reviving the cult of the Pythagoreans with some modern embellishments.

Jordan Ellenberg in his excellent book “How Not To Be Wrong” [Penguin Books 2014] describes The Pythagoreans thus:- ” … , you have to remember, [they] were extremely weird. Their philosophy was a chunky stew of things we’d now call mathematics, things we’d call religion and even mental illness. They believed that odd numbers were good and even numbers evil; that a planet identical to our own, the Antichton, lay on the other side of the sun; and that it was wrong to eat beans, by some accounts because they were the repository of people’s souls. Pythagoras himself was said to have the ability to talk to cattle
(he told them not to eat beans) and to have been one of the few ancient Greeks to wear pants” .
[ I assume “pants” is American usage for trousers].

I would like to add to their religious numerology the belief that right is good and left is evil. This is not too far-fetched since in that fount of imperfect knowledge Wikipedia we find:-

Historically, the left side, and subsequently left-handedness, was considered negative in many cultures. The Latin word sinistra originally meant “left” but took on meanings of “evil” or “unlucky” by the Classical Latin era, and this double meaning survives in European derivatives of Latin, and in the English word “sinister”.

My religion will decree that on Woden’s day (I have searched far and wide for my religious construction) observant Pythagoreans will insist on driving on the right side of the road. They consider that doing this is a test of their religious freedom.

Is this crazy? My son, when a Sixth Former, earned a little money in the summer vacation by supervising children at a residential EFL course in Lampeter university college. Also in residence were a party of Hasidic Jewish families on a sectarian summer vacation. They occupied a self-catering unit which was carefully prepared for their use. They brought their own Kosher food. One Saturday my son was called to the “Hasidic” accommodation to find that a kitchen was on fire. There was fire fighting equipment in the kitchen but it could, of course, not be used by the residents. He tackled the fire and managed to put it out. The university college had a difficult meeting with their insurers after this incident. If there had been tragic fatalities because of this incident, would it have been possible to charge adults who refused to fight the fire with involuntary manslaughter through gross negligence given that they had, at least, raised the alarm?

Religious dogma has consequences.

My hypothetical Latter Day Pythagoreans would surely not be allowed to drive on the right in the UK on Wednesdays. Our society only works if we all accept the pragmatic man-made laws. I would suggest that if Moslems must eat Halal slaughtered meat for religious reasons then they should be free to do so. That is religious freedom. But our man made laws concerning humane slaughter should also be observed so all Halal meat should be imported and clearly marked as such. This would also guarantee my freedom of belief by allowing me to avoid Halal meat. I don’t think this requirement is impractical. For the first forty years of my life all the mutton and lamb which I consumed was imported, frozen from the antipodes.

To waive the humane slaughter laws in the UK is to grant religious licence.

I like the Encarta definition 5.

licence = excessive freedom in behaviour or speech that gives a bad name to liberty.

Alan Rogers

December 2015


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