Beliefnet
STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) - The Church of Scientology has been granted the right to conduct marriages, a right hailed by the church as a further step toward legal recognition.

The license for scientology ministers to be marriage officers follows a decision in March to recognize the church as a religious community. Earlier, it was considered a nonprofit organization.

The National Judicial Board for Public Lands and Funds stated in its decision Thursday that the church fulfills requirements that include some form of religious services and marriage rites. Some history in the country is also required, as well as a membership that exceeds 3,000 followers.

The Church of Scientology has 3,078 members in Sweden and was established here in 1968.

"This recognition from a member of the European community sets a standard for all other European governments," the Rev. Heber Jentzsch, president of the church, said in a statement.

The change of status to religious community 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 Church of Scientology applied for the right to conduct marriages before, in 1977 and in 1982, but was previously not considered to fulfill the criteria.

The church won a similar victory in South Africa last month, when 12 of its ministers there were licensed to perform marriage ceremonies, ending a 40-year-long battle for recognition.

Scientology - recognized as a religion in the United States - has struggled for acceptance in Europe, where it is often suspected of being a cult.

The church, which has about 8 million members worldwide, 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.

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