Scientology Church asks Supreme Court to force rape accusers into private arbitration

Scientology Church asks Supreme Court to force rape accusers into private arbitration
Image via Creative Commons.

Members of the controversial Church of Scientology are hoping that the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to hear a case that involves their policy of internal arbitration for current and former members. Mentioned in the case is actor Danny Masterson, a Church member who is facing sexual assault allegations from four different women — including former Scientology member Chrissie Carnell Bixler.

According to Law & Crime reporter Aaron Keller, the case “questions whether religious groups can force their followers — and even their ex-followers — to submit to internal arbitration proceedings to settle disputes.”

“The case is connected to and indeed names Daniel Masterson, the ‘That ‘70s Show’ actor who faces an upcoming rape trial in the California state court system,” Keller explains. “The respondents in the case allege that Masterson, who is described in Church legal filings as ‘another Church parishioner,’ sexually assaulted them between 2000 and 2003. The instant case involves not the instances of alleged assault, but rather, whether Church officials ‘improperly handled Respondents’ reporting of the alleged assaults.’”

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In California, where Masterson is based, an appellate court has already ruled in the case. But the Church of Scientology is hoping that the U.S. Supreme Court will be willing to take the case; that remains to be seen.

On January 19, according to Keller, the appellate court in California ruled “that the respondents enjoyed a First Amendment right to leave the Church of Scientology and that their mandatory arbitration agreement with the Church was terminated along with the respondents’ departure from the faith. That ruling flatly described the Masterson allegations as ‘rape.’”

The appellate court, in that case, wrote, “Petitioners in this writ proceeding are former members of the Church of Scientology who reported to the police that another Church member had raped them. They allege that, in retaliation for their reports, the Church encouraged its members to engage in a vicious campaign of harassment against them. After petitioners brought suit in superior court against the Church and related entities and persons, some of those defendants moved to compel arbitration, relying on agreements that provided all disputes with the Church would be resolved according to the Church’s own ‘Ethics, Justice and Binding Religious Arbitration system.’ That system was created to decide matters ‘in accordance with Scientology principles of justice and fairness.’”

Chrissie Carnell Bixler, an actress and model, is married to Cedric Bixler-Zavala, lead singer of the rock band The Mars Volta. Around 2013, Bixler-Zavala credited the Church of Scientology with his decision to quit smoking marijuana, but he later became a vehement Scientology critic.

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Scientology has attracted its share of celebrities over the years, ranging from actors Tom Cruise and John Travolota to the late soul singer Isaac Hayes and the late jazz pianist/keyboardist Chick Corea. Actress Leah Remini was a member for many years, but she is now a scathing critic of the sect — which many critics have accused of having cult-like practices.

With the California Supreme Court refusing to hear the case involving Scientology’s internal arbitration policy, Keller notes, the Church decided to go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Masterson is married to singer and actress Bijou Phillips, whose father, the late John Phillips, was a lead singer for the 1960s folk-rock group the Mamas and Papas.

READ MORE: Elisabeth Moss says it's a 'lie' that cursing is 'almost a sacrament' in Scientology

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