The Church of Scientology is attempting to force four women into “religious arbitration” rather than civil court after they accused the church of trying to cover up their rape allegations against one of its members
The women allege “That 70s Show” actor Danny Masterson, a long-time Scientologist, assaulted them roughly a decade ago and that the church tried to intimidate them into silence after they filed police reports. The church argues the case must be settled through “religious arbitration” because the four women are former members of the church and signed documents placing themselves under “ecclesiastical rule.”
Chrissie Bixler, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, is Masterson’s ex-girlfriend, and Masterson claims he is being “railroaded.” (RELATED: What Stakes Does The Church Of Scientology Have In Criminal Justice Reform?)
“I’m not going to fight my ex-girlfriend in the media like she’s been baiting me to do for more than two years,” he said, according to Hollywood Reporter. “I will beat her in court — and look forward to it because the public will finally be able [to] learn the truth and see how I’ve been railroaded by this woman. And once her lawsuit is thrown out, I intend to sue her and the others who jumped on the bandwagon for the damage they caused me and my family.”
Bixler claims church members chased her in her car, filmed her without permission, harassed her online and had false credit schemes and ads soliciting sex posted on her behalf to social media. She also claims her dog died unexpectedly and exhibited injuries consistent with choking, according to Fox News. (RELATED: Danny Masterson, Church Of Scientology, Sued For Rape, Stalking)
One of the other plaintiffs, Marie Riales, claims her email account was hacked, her food truck – which she relies on to make a living – was vandalized and fake ads saying it was for sale were posted online. She also claims her 13-year-old daughter’s bedroom window was smashed in the middle of the night, according to Variety.
“The tragic facts of sexual assault and abuse within Scientology and the cover up are now coming to light,” said Professor Marci Hamilton, who is on the women’s legal team, in a statement. “These brave survivors deserve justice and to be treated with respect and dignity. What they have had to suffer is simply unacceptable. The conduct of the defendants – regardless of their beliefs – is illegal. These victims deserve justice.”
Two other women joined the lawsuit but remained anonymous.
All four women claim Masterson raped or sexually assaulted them in the early 2000s and that they started being harassed after they went to the police in 2016 and early 2017.
The church filed a motion to compel religious arbitration in early January, claiming the court “may not interfere” with the religious arbitration and that the church’s arbitration agreements “must be enforced.”
The church’s argument rests on the agreement that every member must sign before joining Scientology. It stipulates that any legal action taken against the church must be handled by a panel of three arbitrators who are “in good standing with the Mother Church,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. (RELATED: Marianne Williamson Denies Support Of Scientology)
The relevant section of the agreement grants, “my freely given consent to be bound exclusively by the discipline, faith, internal organization, and ecclesiastical rule, custom, and law of the Scientology religion in all matters relating to Scientology Religious Services, in all my dealings of any nature with the Church, and in all my dealings of any nature with any other Scientology church or organization which espouses, presents, propagates or practices the Scientology religion means that I am forever abandoning, surrendering, waiving, and relinquishing my right to sue, or otherwise seek legal recourse with respect to any dispute, claim or controversy against the Church, all other Scientology churches, all other organizations which espouse, present, propagate or practice the Scientology religion, and all persons employed by any such entity both in their personal and any official or representational capacities, regardless of the nature of the dispute, claim or controversy.”
The church claims the Federal Arbitration Act requires that parties should go into arbitration under mutual consent, under the terms of the agreement. The women’s lawsuit was filed in state court, however, requiring the church to argue that the agreement effects interstate commerce and is therefore governed by federal law.
While the women claim to no longer be members of the Church of Scientology, the church claims that they were active members at the time of the alleged crimes.
The church also argues it is protected by the First Amendment.
“Under the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the United States and California Constitutions the Church may establish its own rules governing its relationship with its members exempt from civil law,” the motion states.
Because of the case’s big implications for arbitration law and religious liberty, the state court’s decision is likely to be appealed regardless of the outcome, and the case could make its way to the Supreme Court.