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Sweden Recognizes Scientology

March 15, 2000 GMT

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ The Church of Scientology on Wednesday hailed a decision upgrading its status in Sweden from nonprofit organization to religious community.

``We are delighted to have our name registered after 30 years in the country,″ said Tarja Vulto, Scientology spokeswoman in Sweden. ``We have now the legal status we think we are entitled to. We have always claimed to be a religion and this is now confirmed.″

The change of status came as part of a broader new law to separate the national Lutheran church from state control. The law says all churches that fulfill certain conditions will be considered religious communities with equal status.

The National Judicial Board for Public Lands and Funds decided Monday to register the Scientologists _ who have long worked for recognition as a church _ as a religious community. The decision means the church can apply for the right to wed people, but it has little other practical significance.

The church is also seeking recognition as a religious community in Denmark, where it would receive tax exemptions and the right to marry people. The Danish Ministry for Ecclesiastic Affairs has not set a date for a decision.

While Scientology is recognized as a religion in the United States, its has struggled for acceptance in Europe.

The German government officially views it as an economic enterprise out to bilk its members. The government has kept the organization under surveillance as a threat to democracy and refuses it religious status. Scientologists say Germany’s actions have resulted in persecution and job discrimination for its claimed 30,000 members there.

France registers Scientology on a list of 173 groups that should be closely screened for cult activities, Belgium has investigated its finances and Britain has denied it charitable status.

Scientology was founded by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1954. Hubbard’s book ``Dianetics″ formed the basis of his philosophy that traumatic memories in past lives could be cleared through church counseling.

The church has about 8 million members worldwide.