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A Church of Scientology minister is suing the provincial government for the right to conduct marriage ceremonies.
Andrew Sharman, who was ordained a minister in the Church of Scientology in 1987, says the Ontario government's refusal to authorize him to solemnize marriages is a denial of his religious rights under provincial and federal law.
"I don't understand it, my parishioners don't understand it and my church doesn't understand it," Sharman, 42, said yesterday.
"I am an ordained minister and under the laws of the province of Ontario I am entitled to conduct marriage ceremonies. All that's needed is a licence, and that's the stumbling block — the province doesn't seem to want to move on it."
Sharman, who ministers to a flock of about 200 in his Kitchener parish, submitted his application last March to the consumer and commercial relations ministry, which issues the licences, "and since that time I've heard nothing," he said.
"They haven't even had the courtesy of contacting me to explain why nothing's happening."
A ministry spokesperson was not available for comment yesterday.
Sharman, one of several Scientology ministers seeking a licence to conduct weddings, said Scientologists are not licensed to conduct the ceremony in Ontario.
But, he added, "we have the right to marry (others) in five provinces and we should have it in here."
Ministers in the church are routinely licensed to conduct weddings in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia — and in the Northwest and Yukon Territories.
The notice of suit, filed in the Ontario Court, general division, claims Sharman meets all the requirements of Ontario's Marriage Act.
Sharman said he is ordained according to the rites and usages of the religious body to which he belongs, and is duly recognized by it as being entitled to solemnize marriages.
The Church of Scientology is "permanently established both as to the continuity of its existence and as to its rites and ceremonies," he said, and he's a resident of the province.
"Those are the requirements; I meet them all."
Sharman has asked the Ontario Human Rights Commission to investigate the delay in granting his application and, in his notice of suit, claims denial "of certain rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," specifically, the freedom to practise his religion.
"This is not an understandable situation," he said. "At the moment my parishioners must go to another church if they want to get married, or have a civil ceremony.
"They have the right to be married by their own minister, in front of their own congregation, and right now that's being denied."
[Picture / Caption: Photo Andrew Sharman]
Copyright 1992 Toronto Star, All Rights Reserved.