Religious Legitimacy

90 UMKC Law Review 347 (2021)

50 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2021 Last revised: 4 Jan 2022

See all articles by Phil Lord

Phil Lord

Université de Moncton - Faculty of Law; McGill University - Faculty of Law; York University - Osgoode Hall Law School

Date Written: 2021


This article seeks to demonstrate both the importance of expertise and scholarship in framing a religion’s claim of legitimacy in law, and how expertise can be harnessed by a religious group to gain this legitimacy. From a broad overview of the consequences of religious status in law, the article analyses the tests used to attribute the status, to show the crucial role that their application affords to experts and scholarship. It then argues that new religious movements, and Scientology, are ideal case studies to illustrate the importance of scholars and scholarship. Scientology is indeed the only major religion to have emerged in the twentieth century and is unique in that it has, over this period, gained, lost, re-gained, and grappled with ongoing challenges to its status in law. The article then illustrates these issues with an analysis of two key periods from Scientology’s history: its ultimately successful fight to gain tax-exempt status in the United States in the 1980s, and its response to modern-day challenges to this status. Both periods illustrate, in different ways, how Scientology has recognised the power of expertise and scholarship, and sought to harness it to frame its claim of legitimacy in law.

Suggested Citation

Lord, Phil, Religious Legitimacy (2021). 90 UMKC Law Review 347 (2021), Available at SSRN: or

Phil Lord (Contact Author)

Université de Moncton - Faculty of Law ( email )

18 Antonine-Maillet Ave
Moncton, NB E1A 3E9


McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal, QC H3A 1W9

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, ON M3J 1P3

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