The Church of Scientology has asked the Supreme Court to enforce a religious arbitration agreement that would bar Danny Masterson’s sexual assault accusers from suing the church for allegedly stalking and harassing them.
In a petition filed on Tuesday, the church asked the court to overturn a California Court of Appeal ruling, which held that the women could not be bound by the arbitration agreement because they had left the church.
The church argued that the ruling violates the church’s rights under the First Amendment, and amounts to religious discrimination.
“The Opinion weaponizes the First Amendment against religious freedom, holding that the First Amendment requires limitations applicable only to religious — and not to secular — arbitration agreements,” the church argued.
The plaintiffs filed suit in August 2019, alleging that the church had engaged in a campaign of harassment and intimidation after they reported rape allegations against Masterson — a prominent church member — to the LAPD. The women allege that agents of the church followed them, hacked their email and their security systems, killed their pets, ran them off the road, poisoned trees in their yard and threatened to kill them. The church has denied the allegations.
Masterson has also denied the rape allegations, and is set to face a criminal trial this fall.
The church sought to force the women to adhere to the agreements they signed when they joined the church, which mandated that all claims against the church, in perpetuity, would have to be settled by a church-run arbitration process. A lower court agreed, but in January the Court of Appeal overturned that decision, finding that the women have a First Amendment right to leave the faith.
“We hold that once petitioners had terminated their affiliation with the Church, they were not bound to its dispute resolution procedures to resolve the claims at issue here, which are based on alleged tortious conduct occurring after their separation from the Church and do not implicate resolution of ecclesiastical issues,” the appellate court ruled. “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 silentio waiver of petitioners’ constitutional right to extricate themselves from the faith. The Constitution forbids a price that high.”
The church asked the court to reconsider its decision, and then asked the California Supreme Court to review the case, and was denied both times.
In its petition for a writ of certiorari, the church argued that the Court of Appeal ruling poses a threat to religious arbitration, or other contracts, involving any church.
“The notion that the First Amendment empowers the state to regulate the covenant between a church and its congregation could not be more wrong or dangerous,” the church argued. “Religious organizations need this Court to remove any doubt that their contracts — including their agreements to arbitrate disputes before a religious forum — cannot be voided by a party’s professed change of mind.”
Marci Hamilton, who represented the accusers at the appellate court, noted in an email that the appellate ruling was unpublished, meaning it does not create law for other cases.
“The Church is seeking to overturn a decision from a state Supreme Court that is unpublished and therefore not precedential,” she wrote. “This is a procedural posture that Court would never take. They have nothing to review.”