When you join a religious group it is common to have terms that you agree to abide by. One of the Church of Scientology terms is that you agree to their arbitration for any and all disputes forever.
What happens when you come to your senses and decide, “Nope, this is not for me”, what will they then do?
You would think nothing because you have left and are no longer a member.
Apparently not so with the Church of Scientology.
The latest news is that they are seeking to enforce a membership agreement as a legal loophole in order to protect a member from a sexual assault charge.
A scientology member accused of sexual assault, gasp! Do I hear you say “No way, they are not like that”.
Oh yes they are, very much so.
Even their current “glorious leader” David Miscavige stands accused of not just criminal activities, but also of repeated sexual assault of children, human trafficking, forced labor, and other forms of child abuse. If you think I’m making any of that up, then I simply refer you to his well-referenced Wikipedia biography.
This however is not about him, but instead relates to another member, so let’s dive into that.
Here is a Brief Timeline of what has been happening
It concerns an actor and deeply committed Scientologist named Danny Masterson.
Back in March 2017 four women filed sexual assault charges against him. As a result, Netflix fired him. In December 2017 a fifth victim popped up with similar allegations.
Because he was a wholly committed scientologist, the Church defended him. In fact they took it a lot further than you might normally expect and proceeded to actively harasses the women that had accused him. This included …
- following them
- hacking their email and security systems
- killing their pets
- running them off the road
- poisoning trees in their yard
- threatening to kill them
- and more …
In 2019 they responded by suing the Church of Scientology and accused them of this harassment.
Now comes the twist. These women were all once scientology members.
“Hold on a moment“, says the Church of Scientology, “You signed contracts with us, and so on that basis these cases should all be dismissed because you are legally obliged to sort all this out, as you agreed, via our own internal arbitration service“.
They are no longer members, so can these “contracts” be enforced and used to dismiss all these cases?
The decision of an initial court case was “Yep”.
That went to appeal.
The appeal court in California then said, “Nope, don’t be daft”, and reasoned it as follows …
…The issue properly phrased is: after petitioners have left the faith, can Scientology still require that all of Scientology’s future conduct with respect to petitioners – including torts of whatever kind – be governed by Scientology law, with disputes to be resolved solely in Scientology tribunals by Scientology members? We conclude it cannot. Just like written antenuptial agreements to raise children in a particular faith are not enforceable against a parent who has left the faith, Scientology’s written arbitration agreements are not enforceable against members who have left the faith, with respect to claims for subsequent non-religious, tortious acts. To hold otherwise would bind members irrevocably to a faith they have the constitutional right to leave...
… In effect, Scientology suggests that one of the prices of joining its religion (or obtaining a single religious service) is eternal submission to a religious forum – a sub silencio waiver of petitioners’ constitutional right to extricate themselves from the faith. The Constitution forbids a price that high.
That’s a very good common sense ruling. So this has all now been resolved … right?
The Church of Scientology asked the California Supreme Court to review the case … twice. Both times the CA Supreme Court said “Nope”, on the basis that the appeal decision was robust.
Next stop … SCOTUS.
They are asking SCOTUS this …(sanity warning, that’s a link to a SCOTUS 144 page PDF) …[See QUESTIONS PRESENTED section early on in the document]…
Where a parishioner freely executes a religious arbitration agreement with her church, does the First Amendment prohibit enforcement of the agreement if the parishioner leaves the faith?
This is a real punt by them. The Appellate ruling is unpublished. That means it does not create law for other cases. In other words, they are asking SCOTUS to review something that is not procedural, so there is nothing for SCOTUS to review.
How this has played out so far is all very sensible stuff.
The women left the church years ago, then later after they left, faced harassment and sued. The “Members can’t sue us” claim does not apply because they are not members. The ruling that religious contracts don’t apply to ex-members stands.
Now the worrying part
This is not your normal sensible SCOTUS, but instead is the ultra conservative religiously fanatical SCOTUS. Would they really be crazy enough to rule that religious rules apply forever even after you have left the belief far behind?
There exists a rather fundamental human right known as “Freedom of Thought”, hence what you believe should only ever be a personal choice. That includes the right to walk away if you change you mind. No legal contract should ever bind you to any religious group in any way. Unfortunately, SCOTUS has been going rogue and making decisions that bind us all to religious beliefs by force.
The Church of Scientology stance is that the price for joining is agreeing to an Irrevocable contract.
It is all a tactic to protect a sexual abuser who has been credibly accused by multiple women. Danny Masterson’s trial is currently set for August 29, 2022.
Now SCOTUS are being asked to rule on a weird religious contract as a rather bizarre play to scupper that trial. Will SCOTUS be sensible and simply refuse to take the case up or will they once again do something that makes no ethical sense.
In normal times you would expect SCOTUS to be sensible, but this is the new religiously fanatical SCOTUS, so all bets on them being sensible are off.