Yet again, Scientology is defending itself in court by claiming that it treats people no worse than the Roman Catholic Church does. We wonder when, if ever, the Catholic Church is going to take notice of this.
Sure, the Catholic Church has deservedly been pilloried in the press and the courts for its horrendous sexual scandals. But that’s not the point here. In this case, Scientology is arguing that it can treat children essentially as slaves in its “Sea Organization” because it’s just like the way the Catholic Church treats its nuns and monks and priests.
That comparison came up in the latest filing by Scientology in the forced-abortion lawsuit of Laura DeCrescenzo, which once again is being kept from coming to trial by another motion for summary judgment filed by the church.
Laura filed her lawsuit in 2009, and her case has had a very complex path since then. At one point, it was dismissed for being filed too late by the first judge to handle it, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald Sohigian. But then an appellate court agreed that Laura might have a point that she had not filed it sooner because of Scientology’s manipulative tactics after she left the Sea Org in 2004. So the lawsuit went back to Sohigian’s court, and in 2013, it survived a major challenge, a motion for summary judgment that Scientology filed at that time. Since then, Sohigian retired and the church filed yet another motion for summary judgment, this time based on the idea that its religious rights are being trampled by Laura’s lawsuit.
The new motion was scheduled to be heard last month, but Judge Rolf M. Treu punted at the last moment, apparently panicked that the case was so complex. He asked both sides to resubmit their filings, spelling out their arguments more plainly so he could grasp what was before him.
So now Scientology has filed its paint-by-numbers brief for Judge Treu, and it’s pretty interesting. Scientology has been all the way to the US Supreme Court in this lawsuit trying to hide Laura’s own files from her, but they lost that fight, and the results were pretty stunning once those files were made available. So, with those secrets out, Scientology is going for another tactic — admit that the Sea Org is essentially slavery, but argue that it’s no different than what other religions do.
They even found an academic to say that the hardships he went through as an 18-year-old seminary student were not unlike what Laura DeCrescenzo experienced as a 12-year-old who had signed the Sea Org’s billion-year contract.
Where do they find these apologist professors?
Anyway, although Scientology sounds like it’s leveling with the court about how difficult things can be in the Sea Org, they are still spinning the facts in Laura’s case as favorably as they can, so they can lead up to this argument…
For better or worse, plaintiff, like the Headleys, was raised as a committed Scientologist and committed her life to the Sea Org. In this respect, plaintiff is no different than young people throughout history who, raised in a devout religious tradition, commit themselves to a lifetime of religious service as monks, nuns, priests, etc., often in isolated abbeys, convents, and monasteries, and pursuant to vows of poverty, abstinence, abnegation, isolation, and/or even silence. All such individuals face the possibility that their commitment will not remain steady and firm, and that they may become disillusioned or disappointed by their church. If they change their minds, they risk being cast into a secular world with which they are unfamiliar, for which they are untrained, and in which, perhaps, they may be alone…The clear lesson of the various cases discussed above is that the First Amendment not only prohibits the state from interfering with such a religious commitment directly, but also from creating liability or punishment for it after the fact if the religious life does not work out to the satisfaction of the person who made the commitment.
Reading this spin on the supposed facts in Laura’s life, we couldn’t help thinking of the way Judge Sohigian had summarized the same facts when he denied Scientology’s previous motion for summary judgment. We were in the courtroom that day, and we were taking these detailed notes as Sohigian announced his verdict denying the motion and then spelling out the evidence that had swayed him. We invite you to compare how Sohigian summed up Laura’s experience with the way Scientology attorneys Bert Deixler and Robert Mangels do in this most recent filing.
[Judge Ronald Sohigian, October 23, 2013, Los Angeles Superior Court] …Plaintiff was, in effect, a child in this Scientology. She started out by volunteering at only six or seven years old — and there may be question whether that’s really volunteering when she’s so young. She got involved at 12 in the Sea Org, she moved away from her family. She lived in the Scientology facility in Los Angeles. This Sea Org is evidently a kind of a missionary activity or an office for a propagation for the faith, or something like that. This leaving and going with this organization, at that time she was just about beginning junior high school student. What they got her to do was sign some kind of a paper saying she would work for them basically indefinitely. There’s a number on the paper, a billion years. And that’s when she was 12. When she was 25 she left. When she went into that organization, she didn’t communicate in the standard way with her parents and other family members. Her mail was opened. There was someone present when she communicated with her family members. They did this evidently to make sure she didn’t say anything negative about the organization. She has given testimony that she was apprehensive about whether she was going to be punished. Part of the training was that she wouldn’t say anything negative about the Sea Org or Scientology, and if she did do that, she’d be declared treasonous. Then she’d be given base duties, extra duty. She was also told that she had to report anything that came out of the family, statements or behaviors, that was contrary to Scientology….So here you have a 12-year-old youngster who didn’t regularly interact with her family. And she would have to undergo a “check,” apparently a set of interrogations. (He’s talking about a “sec-check.”) And there’s evidence that you sort of had to pass this test to be able to leave. And the persons that give this test have to be sure that you’re not going to leave permanently. So in this time, middle and late adolescence, there is evidence to show that she went a couple of years without seeing her parents. And this period of time elapsed because she wasn’t let out….When she was in this Sea Org, she had to make out a questionnaire — a life history questionnaire.
Sohigian goes through some questions…He is bringing up specifically the question about asking the Sea Org member to admit to homosexual acts and detail them. Yeah, great questionnaire, Scientology. Now he’s talking about her incredible hours. And even when she wasn’t on the clock, she had to stay around the Scientology facilities, or go with an escort. In 2001, she went to the RPF. He explains to the court reporter that it stands for “Rehabilitation Project Force.” Damn right, judge. How her hours got even worse then, with lights out at 10:30. He’s relating it to his own days in the service! Wow. Sohigian is talking about Laura’s sleep deprivation, and little time for hygiene or changing clothes. Paid only 10 to 50 dollars a week. And during this time no formal schooling. She did take a high school proficiency exam. But didn’t get any other schooling. She could not freely come and go. She observed that when people would escape, they would do a “drill” (a “blow drill”) that would rely on credit card records, etc. So if she tried to leave, she would be tracked down and brought back involuntarily. Well, she did try to leave and was in essence detained. Then was watched 24 hours. Interrogated. And not just interrogation, but that she was told what to say. During RPF, about three or four years, she left the facility fewer than 20 times. She did not have access to her identification or money. Never allowed to have more than 20 dollars on her. Her passport was locked up. She was afraid that if she left, bad things would happen. So in April 2004, she wanted to get out of RPF, but SO put her on hard labor ten hours a day. So she drank some bleach as quasi-suicidal behavior. Now he’s referring to an affidavit she signed when she left the Sea Org, saying at the time that she benefited from the Sea Org.
Sohigian points out that when Laura was seven years old, she picketed this courtroom! “Picketing a courthouse doesn’t usually affect judges, but I think it’s meant to affect the public,” he says. Laura believed that the penalties for speaking out against the church would cost her millions of dollars. And she was asked to periodically sign forms about her loyalty to the church. This was an act of surveillance, she says. She also claimed that she was trained to report anybody who took a negative action against the church. So she claims that she was trying to weave her way through this thicket of fears and apprehensions. And this disabled her from acting more promptly, and that all of this was the fault of the defendants. She claims she remained active in this organization (Scientology) and she was doing that because she was scared, that she would be cut off from her family, declared a “suppressive person.” Her apprehension was that the Scientology organization and its members would smear her. And that she’d seen that happen to other people. She did get a freeloader bill of $120,000, she got calls about it, and she actually paid $10,000. This led her to believe that the organization was keeping its eyes on her. She actually went to work for a Scientologist-owned business in order to pay her freeloader bill. You could say this was an indication that she was not as scared as she says she was, but there’s another potential implication, that it’s circumstantial evidence that she was under continuing surveillance. Sohigian is saying that Laura, between 2004 to 2008, continued to get calls from church members, which indicated to her that she was being observed and snooped on.
It was in 2008 that she first began to consult information critical of Scientology. She thought if she gave her identity, Scientology would send someone to “handle” her — keep her from speaking out. But in autumn of 2008, she contacted another former Sea Org member, and started to talk about a lawsuit. Then she was visited in January 2009 by church members asking her about ESMB. (The Ex-Scientologist Message Board, forum.exscn.net) This was indication in her mind that Scientology was monitoring her online communications. After they left, she found a piece of paper with instructions on how to “handle” her. She was contacted by a lawyer and then filed a lawsuit in 2009. “So my view is, this creates a triable issue of material fact concerning the time-bar defense. It is not conclusive in either direction. I think that under the circumstances I have an obligation to deny the motion for summary judgment in all respects.”
Sohigian was clearly impressed by Laura’s testimony, and felt that the facts in the case were not in agreement, and that a jury should get the opportunity to decide who was telling the truth. Sohigian describes a child who was taken advantage of by an organization that plotted to keep her out of communication with her own family, even when it became clear that she was sorely homesick and simply wanted to talk to her mother. Scientology’s multiple methods of manipulation to keep Laura in fear about exerting even her most basic human rights comes off as anything but the activities of a church.
Now, Scientology is taking another bite at the apple, saying that Laura is exaggerating her claims, and even if it does treat its Sea Org members like crap, it’s a matter of religion which a civil court can’t get involved in.
Laura’s team now has until February 22 to file its response, and then Scientology can reply on February 29. A hearing on the motion is scheduled for March 7.
Here’s the Scientology filing. Please give us your thoughts on it.
Today in Los Angeles: Hanan Islam has a prelim
At 8:30 am today in Los Angeles, Hanan Islam has a preliminary hearing of some sort in criminal court, and we could use a correspondent on the scene. Let us know if you are in the area and can go by the court to see what happens.
Chris Shelton interviews Tim DeWall, part 4
Australian Scientologists have fun at their “Indian event”
Perhaps our friends Down Under could help us understand what’s going on here.
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield