Scientology’s Reply to Marci Hamilton’s Landmark Legal Victory in the California Court of Appeals

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the United States’ leading church/state scholars, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Program in Religion and Urban Civil Society, and holds the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University

Marci Hamilton won a landmark legal victory on January 19, 2020 when the California Appeals Court overturned L.A. Superior Court Judge Steven Kleifeld’s order compelling her client Chrissie Carnell Bixler and her fellow plaintiffs into Scientology arbitration. (Case B310559 Second Appellate District, Division Five).

The arbitration order arose from the civil lawsuit filed by Bixler and her fellow plaintiffs against Scientology and Scientologist Danny Masterson. (LASC Case No. 19STCV29458).

We covered the details of Hamilton’s victory in our previous article. Essentially, the Church of Scientology argued that its religious services membership contract is binding upon a person as concerns Scientology forever and ever even after they have resigned from Scientology and left the Church as was the case with Bixler and the other plaintiffs. The Appeals Court said no and ruled:

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.

True to Scientology’s past histrionics, Scientology had its attorney William Forman hyperbolically exclaim that Scientology’s legal loss was an attack against all religions. The New York Post published his comment:

Whenever Scientology loses in court it spins the loss as a grave and perilous threat to all religions. Hence, Forman’s phony handwringing that “every church, temple, and mosque should be troubled by this decision…”

What Forman omitted to mention in his sanctimonious prattle is that his client Scientology and its leader David Miscavige are implicated in the criminal case against Scientologist Danny Masterson in which the actor is charged with three counts of forcible rape which each carry a sentence of 45-to-life. So, yes, Scientology has a hellbent agenda to silence Masterson’s victims by forcing them into secret kangaroo court arbitration governed by Scientology’s rules.

Forman continues in his bloviating fervor: “every church, temple, and mosque should be troubled by this decision as it singles out religious organizations for disparate treatment under contract law.”

Disparate treatment under contract law? Did Forman actually read and understand the Appellate Court Ruling? At issue was not Scientology’s membership contract which calls for arbitration. This contract has already been upheld in the Garcia lawsuit. At issue was Scientology’s insistence that its membership contract, and therefore its religious authority, is binding forever upon anyone who ever signed the contract.

Again, the Appeals court said no (emphasis ours):

Scientology argues that petitioners simply agreed to be bound by Scientology dispute resolution procedures no matter what. As Scientology puts it, “An ‘irrevocable’ agreement to ‘forever’ waive civil proceedings and submit to Scientology Ethics and Justice Codes in ‘any dispute’ with Churches of Scientology is a condition for participation in the religion.” It argues that this agreement should be enforced like any other agreement.

Enforcing this provision without regard to petitioners’ First Amendment rights would mean that if the Church or a Church member committed any intentional or negligent tort against a former member of the Church, that former member would be bound by Scientology dispute resolution procedures regardless of the fact that the member had left the Church years, even decades, before the tort. 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.

Is Scientology attorney William Forman telegraphing the basis of Scientology’s appeal? Will Scientology argue that the Appeals Court engaged in the disparate treatment of a religion under contract law?

This would be a losing strategy because consent belongs to the individual and not any church. Once an individual withdraws their consent to be governed by the rules of their religion and leaves that religion, that church, synagogue, or temple no longer has any authority over them. All religious membership contracts become null and void upon resignation from a religious group as they are predicated on the consent of the individual.

Marci Hamilton’s 2014 outstanding speech at the Freedom From Religion Foundation:

Scientology’s Reply to Marci Hamilton’s Landmark Legal Victory in the California Court of Appeals