As many Spiritualists know the definition of a religion was based on a ruling given by Lord Denning in which he memorably said on the concept of Religious Worship that it was to take place in a place of meeting for religious worship as used in the Act of 1855 which is a place of which the principal use is where people come together as a congregation or assembly to do reverence to God.

To quote from his ruling the following is relevant. “Religious worship means reverence or veneration of God or of a Supreme Being. 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." 

This created the understanding that SNU Churches should be places providing for public worship of God by all in attendance, and this is achieved through prayer and the singing of hymns and songs addressed to a Deity.  

English Courts and the Registrar General were therefore bound by this definition until more recently when Lord Toulson of the Supreme Court gave a more recent judgement.  In Paragraph 57 of the judgment, Lord Toulson laid down is what will undoubtedly now become the standard definition of religion in UK Law...

I would describe religion in summary as a spiritual or non-secular belief system, held by a group of adherents, which claims to explain mankind's place in the universe and relationship with the infinite, and to teach its adherents how they are to live their lives in conformity with the spiritual understanding associated with the belief system. By spiritual or non-secular I mean a belief system which goes beyond that which can be perceived by the senses or ascertained by the application of science. I prefer not to use the word "supernatural" to express this element, because it is a loaded word which can carry a variety of connotations. Such a belief system may or may not involve belief in a supreme being, but it does involve a belief that there is more to be understood about mankind's nature and relationship to the universe than can be gained from the senses or from science.

The sentence highlighted above now emphasises that in all of our services the address given by the speaker provides that which is required by the statement, and that is to give an address based on the Seven Principles which is the core of our belief system. It is now essential that all our churches and speakers understand this as it is far more important than it may at first seem. This ruling obviously puts much more emphasis on the need for a good address based on the Seven Principles; if our churches do not comply with that requirement it is possible that they may lose their status as places of Public Worship, and as such also lose their charitable status. Without charitable status churches would have to pay taxes on any income over expenditure, such as on rates, water rates, refuse removal, etc.

To combine the needs of both rulings, our services need to include prayer to the deity stated in our First Principle The Fatherhood of God, hymns and songs addressed to or praising that deity, and an address which teaches those attending about the spiritual understanding of living life in accordance with the Seven Principles.

Useful Links:

Lord Denning's entry on Wikipedia

Lord Toulson's complete ruling from the Supreme Court (PDF)