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SCIENTOLOGY TO CALIFORNIA SUPREMES: State’s Priest-Penitent Law is Unconstitutional

CASupremesEarlier this week we told you that Laura DeCrescenzo’s forced-abortion lawsuit against the Church of Scientology had reached a crucial stage, and that the church is scrambling to prevent a release of thousands of pages of documents that could bolster DeCrescenzo’s case.

The documents come from Laura’s “pc folders,” which were compiled as she spent years undergoing brutal interrogations as a member of the church’s “Sea Org.” Unlike in a Catholic confessional, DeCrescenzo’s auditing sessions were not only recorded by auditors, but those notes were reviewed and shared by case supervisors and other church employees — the church itself admits that some 250 officials compiled or reviewed these notes, which contain intimate secrets about DeCrescenzo’s private life. When she demanded the documents — which fill about 140 folders and were compiled over a decade — the church tried to keep them secret under California law that protects priest-penitent confessions (even though it was the penitent — DeCrescenzo — who wanted the material). The superior court in Los Angeles ruled that because Laura’s notes were shared by so many church employees, that law didn’t apply, and the church has already lost an appeal of that decision.

So now the church has petitioned the state’s supreme court, arguing that the law itself is unconstitutional because it discriminates against Scientology’s concept of confessional confidentiality. We now have the church’s petition, and we’re sharing it with our readers.

The church was racing to meet a May 6 deadline, which the superior court in L.A. set for the release of DeCrescenzo’s folders. But that date has been moved back to May 16, giving the state supreme court more time to decide whether to grant a stay and allow argument on the matter. (A state appeals court already denied a similar petition without a written order.)

Please go here for our Village Voice story about DeCrescenzo’s life in Scientology and how this lawsuit, first filed in 2009, got going. The suit has a very complex history, but it seems now to be at a major make-or-break moment for the church: it is fighting tooth and nail not to turn over DeCrescenzo’s pc folders as demanded by the lower court.

In this petition, the church argues that the state’s priest-penitent law itself is unconstitutional because Scientology should not have to adhere to the same conditions as other religions — such as Catholicism — as long as it maintains a penitent’s confidentiality. And even though 250 different “ministers” in Scientology saw or had access to Laura’s secrets, that confidentiality was maintained, the church insists.

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But here’s what the church is not saying in its petition to the supreme court. Much of the material in DeCrescenzo’s folders was produced not in the sort of voluntary confessionals that one thinks of in a Catholic setting, but in brutal, involuntary interrogation sessions — called “security checks” — that Sea Org members go through as a matter of course.

The church talks about “auditing” as a spiritual sacrament, and taking notes during those sessions as simply a part of its creed. But any Sea Org member will tell you, “sec checks” are about anything but spirituality. Questions are designed to root out any possible misdeeds, thoughts of rebelling, information about other people, or other secrets that a person may be harboring.

As we reported earlier, Sea Org members know that they can have no sexual secrets in Scientology, and information about every partner they’ve ever had is gathered in sec checks and then shared among church officials.

DeCrescenzo tells us that most of the material she’s trying to get the church to release came from security checks, not auditing sessions — but you don’t get any sense of that in the church’s petition to the state supreme court.

For four years, DeCrescenzo has been fighting to have her story heard in court — that she was abused as a Sea Org member who was forced to spend three years in the Sea Org’s prison detail, the “RPF,” and also was forced to have an abortion because having children in the Sea Org is against the rules. Throughout that experience she was repeatedly interrogated for her “crimes” against Scientology, and those sessions were noted in thousands of pages over more than a decade.

But in the church’s petition, there’s no sense of that. Instead, Scientology complains that it’s being singled out for discrimination simply because its confessional system differs from Catholicism.

 

Scientology CA Supreme Court petition

 
You may have caught it, but we must point out this whopper from Scientology attorney Bert Deixler…

The Court of Appeal’s rule extends the clergy-penitent privilege to the confessional practice that exists in certain religions, notably Catholicism, while denying it to others, including Mormonism, the Presbyterian Church, Scientology, and other Christian denominations.

After reading that, we have to wonder if Deixler knows so little about the client he represents that he truly does think Scientology is some sort of brand of Christianity. It may be news to him that Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard pronounced “there was no Christ,” and that although beginners are told they may hold on to their previous faiths as they explore Scientology, very soon they find they must give up any “other practices,” as it’s called in the church.

 
Also filed with the state supreme court was a “friends of the court” letter — a letter of amici curiae — in support of the church’s position, and it’s signed by some of Scientology’s more prominent members and donors, including Craig Jensen of Condusiv Technologies (formerly Diskeeper).

These wealthy Scientologists argue that if the state grants the lower court’s order to turn over to Laura DeCrescenzo her confessional notes, it will be such a devastating ruination of Scientology’s auditing policies, these church members will be forced to get future auditing outside of the state.

That’s right: Craig Jensen is so adamant about not getting access to his own files, he’d rather cross a state line than fondle another e-meter in California if DeCrescenzo gets to see notes of her own interrogation sessions.

 

Amici Letter in Scientology Petition

 
In neither document is there any hint that for decades, the church has been accused of mining pc folders for damaging information about former church members who dare to criticize Scientology. This has come up repeatedly in court cases, and is not merely a complaint by (as the church inevitably phrases it) “bitter defrocked apostates” with an axe to grind.

Well, Scientology has only a few days to interest the state supreme court in its argument about priest-penitent law. We’re told that the appeals court’s quick denial without a written order makes it unlikely that the supreme court will do something different. But with Scientology, you just never know. We’ll stay on top of things and report any new developments as soon as we can.

[Our regular Saturday morning feature, Scientology Mythbusting with Jon Atack, will return next week.]

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on May 4, 2013 at 03:00

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