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SCIENTOLOGY TO FEDERAL COURT: Let Us Refute The Garcia Declarations, And Then Butt Out of Our Religion

Luis Garcia, causing trouble

Luis Garcia, causing trouble

Monday evening, the Garcia federal fraud lawsuit against the Church of Scientology heated up when the Garcias filed several declarations from former church members who said Scientology’s refund process is designed to be a sham.

[ALSO IN THIS POST — The New York Times strokes Tom Cruise]

Now, the church has fired back, asking federal Judge James Whittemore to allow Scientology to file a 10-page memorandum and a set of their own declarations in support of its previous argument and — and here’s the really ballsy part — the judge should then butt out, because the church’s position is a religious one and not something an American court can get involved in.

Tonight, the attorneys for the Garcias answered back, saying that the church’s request is unfair (the church has already filed its allotted 25-page response to the Garcias’ original complaint) and, once again, argued that the Garcias are suing over fraud, not religious beliefs.

We have both documents.

The Church also objects to the Garcias’ argument that California law should apply because most of the agreements they signed were executed in that state. We’ll have some analysis from Scott Pilutik soon. For now, here are the newest documents in this fascinating fight…

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The Church’s request to file a 10-page memorandum and declarations…

Defendants will set forth in declarations by definitive ecclesiastical officials the true nature of Scientology policies and procedures to the extent relevant to the pending motion. Defendants also will demonstrate that under well-established constitutional doctrine, the Court may not engage in a judicial inquiry and determination of what a religion’s beliefs, policies, and procedures are, but must accept the definitive statement of those beliefs, practices, policies and procedures by appropriate ecclesiastical officials, lest the court risk placing itself in the position of determining the content of religious doctrine contrary to that proclaimed by the religion itself.

Garcia: Scientology Request to submit 10 Pages

 
 
The Garcias react to the church’s request to add pages…

What Defendants seek to do by claiming that those policies invoke a First Amendment privilege is to have the Court consider the declarations filed by the Defendants and ignore those filed by the Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs never raise religious issues in their brief. To the contrary, it is Plaintiffs’ position that whether Scientology is or is not a religion is irrelevant. Plaintiffs’ complaint is based upon fraud and Defendants cannot possibly claim that fraud is a part of their religion or religious practices. If the Defendant were the Catholic Church instead of the Church of Scientology, there could not be a claim that it could willfully defraud people and be relieved of civil responsibility becausee of the religious nature of its practices.

Garcia Plaintiffs Object to 10 Page Addition

 
Here’s analysis from attorney Scott Pilutik…

This is a motion practice question, and every federal district court treats each slightly differently. The governing provision here, in the Middle District of Florida, is local rule 3.01. The rules permit a motion and a response to that motion but not a reply without seeking leave from the court. So this is Scientology’s request for that leave. I do not know how often the Middle District of Florida typically grants leaves for Replies, but in motion practice elsewhere, Replies to are common, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Scientology granted this.

As for the content of that Reply, Scientology wants to make a choice of law argument they evidently failed to make in their motion, likely because they spent almost every square inch of the allowable page limit on their religious abstention argument.

As for that argument, I discussed this in my comment Monday night, how the court is facing a choice between religious doctrine submitted by Party A and Party B. How to choose? Scientology has an answer — not surprisingly, only they are the “definitive ecclesiastical officials.” Breathtakingly arrogant.

Hey, but aren’t most if not all of Garcias’ declarants independent Scientologists? And if so, isn’t Scientology effectively asking the court to pick and choose between competing interpretations of religious doctrines, but asking it to effectively define Scientology orthodoxy?

Remember, the whole point behind Scientology’s underlying motion is to get the court to decline jurisdiction over a religious dispute — because remember, courts can’t decide religious disputes. Accordingly, Scientology is requesting that the Court mire itself in a religious dispute between the church and Independent Scientology. Let’s hope the court recognizes the depths of this hypocrisy.

 
Monday night, we had noticed that all of the declarants in the Garcia response were independent Scientologists. And now, Scott makes us see why that may turn out to be a brilliant strategy by the Garcias and their attorneys.

Scott may also be correct that allowing this kind of addition to a response is common. On the other hand, it might be useful to remember that Whittemore already denied Scientology’s request to add pages to their response, and told them he was strictly enforcing the 25-page rule (see the second item in this story). Scientology managed to get under that limit, but then added about 300 pages in exhibits. At the time we wondered if that was the wisest move.

Also, when we read Ted Babbitt’s words in tonight’s filing — “Plaintiffs’ complaint is based upon fraud and Defendants cannot possibly claim that fraud is a part of their religion or religious practices” — we immediately remembered that Judge Whittemore himself said as much in a previous case. In 2001, Whittemore sent Gerald and Betty Payne to prison for 27 years for bilking $450 million from parishioners of the Greater Ministries International Church. Betty Payne argued that their religious rights were being trampled, but Whittmore said: “It’s one thing to have blind faith. It’s quite another to cast yourself as a martyr for no apparent good.”

As soon as we hear more, you’ll know it.

 
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Tom Cruise Gets a Stroking from the New York Times

The New York Times continues its unbroken record as the absolute worst major newspaper for Scientology coverage. In this weekend’s magazine, the Times has a fawning feature on Tom Cruise, which isn’t surprising in itself, but it contains these odious lines…

Scientology isn’t among the world’s major religions, and when I picture what goes on behind closed doors, it is not unlike that most action-filled scene in “Eyes Wide Shut.” But Cruise isn’t a religious leader, just a religious man, so to me much of our criticism smacks of religious bigotry.

Author Taffy Brodesser-Akner really steps over a line with her cute use of “our criticism,” as if she’s speaking for some clubby group. Her words actually betray her ignorance of the subject, and already some commenters are giving her the raspberry for being unfamiliar with Lawrence Wright’s definitive book on Scientology celebrity and Tom Cruise, Going Clear.

We will also point to our own open letter to Tom Cruise, which we wrote for the Village Voice more than a year ago, hoping to increase awareness of Cruise’s responsibility to speak out about Scientology’s shocking abuses.

Tom Cruise is more than just a religious man, he’s the Church of Scientology’s number one recruitment tool and best friend to its supreme leader. His silence on his best friend’s abuses helps keep the man in his position. It’s not bigotry to ask Cruise to answer questions about Scientology’s practices.

Perhaps the Times is too afraid to ask those questions. But to tar those of us who dare to do so as bigots is beneath contempt.

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on April 24, 2013 at 20:30

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