It has been contended by the Church of Scientology that an appeals court in California erred when it granted church members a “sweeping and unlimited” right to exit.
According to a Jan. 20 decision by the California Court of Appeal, members of a church who have left the faith cannot be committed to a perpetual commitment to resolve conflicts before a religious arbitration panel.
As a church member and star of “That 70’s Show,” Danny Masterson is accused of rape, and he is due in court later this year. When the church’s accusers filed suit in 2019, they claimed that the church had mounted a “Fair Game” campaign against them as revenge for going to the LAPD, which included stalking, hacking their emails, tapping their phones, poisoning their dogs, and putting them in danger of being driven over.
Acknowledging that they had signed an agreement to address all problems in a church-run arbitration hearing, the church disputed the accusations and tried to force the accusers to do so by forcing them to conform to the terms of that agreement. An appeals court overturned a lower court ruling in favour of the accusers.
The three-judge panel found that “Scientology’s written arbitration agreements are not enforceable against members who have left the faith, with respect to claims for future non-religious, tortious actions.”
Thursday, Scientology’s lawyers argued that the ruling is unprecedented and contains multiple flaws. They also requested a new hearing.
When William H. Forman and Matthew D. Hinks filed their briefs in the case, they contended that “freely executed” religious arbitration agreements could not be enforced over First Amendment concerns of a party who claims to be a “non-believer.” If religious arbitration agreements are enforced in a way that favours one religion over another, the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) is violated.
Arbitration agreements between religious groups have been accepted by courts before, according to the church’s lawyers. That’s why they say that the Supreme Court’s decision to offer one party the “freedom to quit their religion” is “sweeping and boundless,” thereby permitting them to walk away from a legally binding arrangement.
As determined by this Court, “the freedom to abandon the faith” encompasses the ability to limit the extent of freely completed contracts that incorporate forum selection clauses mandating arbitration by the local church. “This ‘right’ has no bounds…. Express and unequivocal contractual requirements cannot be nullified by the “freedom to abandon a faith.”
Accusers’ lawyer Marci Hamilton said in an email that the court’s judgement was made on the basis of “bedrock First Amendment principles.”
With no freedom of religion, Hamilton said, there would be “no right to select your faith” in this scenario. Because they reported rapes to the authorities, several women left Scientology and experienced harassment as a result.” Both the United States Constitution and public policy do not sustain Scientology’s claim to legal independence.”