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Scientology’s US Supreme Court Petition Gets Boost from National Council of Churches

NCCNext month, Scientology’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari will fight for survival during a conference with more than 850 other petitions being considered that day. The Church of Scientology is asking the Supremes to consider its assertion that California’s priest-penitent law is unconstitutional. Last month, Scientology was forced by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to turn over 18,000 pages of evidence to Laura DeCrescenzo in her lawsuit against the church alleging abuse, including being forced to have an abortion at only 17.

Scientology has argued time and again that those pages of evidence should be protected under priest-penitent privilege, even though DeCrescenzo is the “penitent” and has demanded the evidence so she can bolster her position in the lawsuit. Scientology has already lost appeals to the California’s appellate and supreme courts on the matter, and Justice Anthony Kennedy denied the church’s request for an emergency stay.

And on the day of the September 30 conference, Scientology faces daunting odds to get its petition to the next level. But now, it has a little more support, and it’s coming from an interesting source.

We have learned that a couple of amicus briefs have been filed on behalf of Scientology’s position. One of them is from the National Council of Churches of Christ, and its brief echoes the argument that the church itself has made about DeCrescenzo’s case.

As attorney Scott Pilutik has explained for us before, priest-penitent statutes tend to be designed to protect a parishioner from having the things he or she says in confidence to a priest or minister used against him or her — a criminal confession, for example. In the Catholic Church, a parishioner tells things to a single priest, things that are not written down, and things that the priest is not supposed to share with anyone else. Whatever was said in that setting is privileged.

But in this case, it’s Scientology that wants to protect itself from its own behavior in regards to DeCrescenzo, behavior that would be spelled out in detail in hundreds of “pc folders” that accumulated while DeCrescenzo was an employee of the church. In Scientology, what a member says during “auditing” is not only noted down by the “auditor,” but that material is reviewed by case supervisors and other officials. In Laura’s case, the church itself has admitted that some 259 church officials compiled or reviewed the material in her folders.

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Scientology, however, claims that what is in Laura’s files is “deeply religious” and to allow DeCrescenzo to use that material in her lawsuit would set a grave precedent for all religions. So far, that argument has not won the day. (And as for the “deeply religious” nature of the files, they would contain not only results of Laura’s auditing, but also interrogations about her work and loyalty to the church.)

But now comes the National Council of Churches of Christ, along with the Queens Federation of Churches and two Scientologists, Brandon Marion and Craig Jensen, who argue that forcing Scientology to turn over its vast files on DeCrescenzo would threaten the freedom of religion in America. We have their amicus brief, and we look forward to your thoughts on it.

(Judge Ronald Sohigian has scheduled a hearing on the church’s motion for summary judgment in October, which will be the next major action in the case if the US Supreme Court does not select the church’s petition on September 30.)

 

DeCrescenzo Amicus Brief NCC

 
Our previous coverage of Laura DeCrescenzo’s legal odyssey…

Laura’s experience in Scientology and the first three years of her lawsuit [Village Voice, July 2012]
Scientology ordered to turn over thousands of pages of evidence in Laura’s “pc files” [March 2013]
California Appeals Court won’t hear Scientology’s appeal about the order to turn over the files [May 2013]
California Supreme Court also won’t hear Scientology’s appeal, which called CA law unconstitutional [May 2013]
Scientology wants evidence kept from public, DeCrescenzo says it’s too late for a protective order [June 2013]
Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy denies Scientology’s application for an emergency stay [June 2013]
Scientology turns over documents, Laura DeCrescenzo begins process to review them [July 2013]

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on August 7, 2013 at 15:00

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