Just a few months before Danny Masterson’s trial for multiple rapes is set to start in Los Angeles, the Church of Scientology has launched a Hail Mary attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in another portion of the sordid matter.
Despite failing in a California appeals court and being rejected by the Golden State’s Supreme Court, the David Miscavige-led organization has now petitioned SCOTUS to stop four of Masterson’s alleged victims from taking the church to court over a “vicious campaign of harassment against them.”
Masterson, a longtime Scientologist, was arrested in June 2020 on three counts of forcible rape that allegedly occurred in 2001 and 2003 at his Hollywood Hills home. The actor faces a possible maximum sentence of 45 years to life in state prison if found guilty.
In the instance of the four women at the center of this latest move by Scientology, previous judicial jurisdictions have maintained that because the women in question have left the church, they are no longer held to the religious arbitration agreement they agreed to in joining the celebrity-heavy group.
In documents filed in Washington, DC, this week (read them here), Scientology is saying it disagrees, asking SCOTUS to scrap the California Appellate court’s ruling. In fact, Scientology claims its First Amendment rights are being violated, as is the basic premise of a contract in America:
The dispute here is simple. The Respondents, as a condition for joining Petitioners’ church, repeatedly and expressly agreed to religious arbitration of any disputes between them and Petitioners, regardless of when those disputes arose. The agreement to submit disputes to religious arbitration is not anomalous. American courts have long recognized the right of religious institutions to use dispute resolution procedures derived from and guided by their foundational beliefs and scripture. Secular courts have placed agreements to submit disputes to religious arbitration on equal footing with agreements calling for secular arbitration – and declined invitations to discriminate against religious arbitration just because it is religious.
At some point, Respondents changed their minds, and their faith. They argued that their change of faith should free them from their contractual obligations to submit their disputes with Petitioners to the chosen religious forum.
In the petition for a writ of certiorari sent to SCOTUS on July 19, Scientology’s Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP and Winston & Strawn LLP lawyers add that California’s Second Appellate Court sought to “weaponize the First Amendment against religious freedom, holding that the First Amendment requires limitations applicable only to religious — and not to secular — arbitration agreements.”
Running almost parallel with Masterson’s criminal case, which is set to go to trial in October, this matter initially saw Scientology succeed in its efforts to compel arbitration in the immediate fallout to the lawsuit the four women launched in the summer of 2019 in L.A. Superior Court. Having alleged that the That 70s Show actor raped them in the first decade of the 21st century, all four women reported the assaults to the LAPD in 2016 and 2017.
Masterson, who was subsequently dropped from Netflix’s Ashton Kutcher co-starring comedy The Ranch at the end of 2017, has always denied having nonconsensual sex with anyone. In the blast radius of talking to the police and the ensuing investigation into the rape claims, all four women reported being harassed, stalked, digitally threatened and in one case having a pet die and their home attacked by Scientology members, agents or sympathizers.
Scientology has denied involvement in such actions, as well as wanting the matter dealt with behind closed doors. At the same time, as his trial looms, Masterson is out on $3.3 million bail. In June 2021, the actor, who has repeatedly pleaded not, had to surrender his passport as prosecutors feared he was a flight risk.
Just last month, Judge Charlaine Olmedo denied Masterson’s motion to toss out one of the three rape accusations against him on the grounds that a delay in prosecution injured the actor’s defense.
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