Church of Scientology wants Supreme Court to block Danny Masterson rape accusers from suing Church
The Church of Scientology is trying to stop four women who accused actor and member Danny Masterson of rape from suing the church over allegations that the organization harassed and stalked them.
Through a 144-page petition filed Tuesday, the church asked the U.S. Supreme Court to help enforce its religious arbitration clause in its membership contract by overturning a court ruling California appeals court which ruled that the accusers were no longer bound by the contract because they had left the church.
The arbitration clause in the church’s contract prohibits members from taking legal action against the organization and instead requires members to go through a church-led dispute resolution process.
“Individuals have the First Amendment right to leave a religion. We find that once the claimants terminated their membership in the Church, they were not bound by its dispute resolution procedures to resolve the claims at issue here, which are based on alleged tortious conduct that occurred. after their separation from the Church and do not involve the resolution of ecclesiastical matters,” the decision read.
The church pleads religious discrimination, saying the ruling violates its First Amendment rights.
“The notice arms the First Amendment against religious freedom, asserting that the First Amendment requires limitations applicable only to religious arbitration agreements – not secular arbitration agreements,” the petition reads.
The original harassment lawsuit was filed in August 2019 by four women, who accused Masterson of raping them, according to documents released in March 2017 by a reporter.
The women allege that the defendants – Masterson, the Church of Scientology and church leader David Miscavige – stalked and harassed them to intimidate them and prevent them from bringing rape charges against Masterson. The allegations include church members hacking into their email and security systems, killing their pets and threatening to murder them, which the church has denied.
Masterson himself has repeatedly denied the rape allegations and will face trial next month for the alleged sexual assault of three women, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The district attorney’s office also said it did not press charges in two other cases because one lacked evidence and the other exceeded the statute of limitations.
Masterson found fame playing Steven Hyde in That 70s show before reuniting with former co-star Ashton Kutcher on the ranchfrom which he was fired amid allegations of sexual abuse.
In the appeal decision, the court found that the “Constitution forbids” attempting to force women into a church contract after they were no longer considered members.
“Indeed, Scientology suggests that one of the costs of adhering to one’s religion (or obtaining a single religious service) is eternal submission to a religious forum – a sub silentio waiver of petitioners’ constitutional right to disclaim faith. The Constitution prohibits such a high price,” the decision read.
Although the church first asked the appeals court to reconsider, and then the state supreme court, their claims were denied, Variety reports. Rather, they asserted that the appeal decision, which is unpublished and therefore not considered law in other California court cases, threatens religious arbitration for any church.
Appeals court counsel for the accusers, Marci Hamilton, said Variety in an email that the petition does not hold water due to the unpublished status of the appeal decision.
“The Church is seeking to overturn a decision of a state Supreme Court that is unreported and therefore has no precedent,” Hamilton said. “It is a procedural posture which [the] Court would never take. They have nothing to review.