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Episcopal Church Objects to Being Included in Supreme Court Brief Supporting Scientology

EpiscopalChurchAfter we reported last week that the National Council of Churches had filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court supporting the Church of Scientology’s petition in the forced-abortion lawsuit of Laura DeCrescenzo, at least one member of the NCC has expressed its disapproval.

Readers of the Underground Bunker reached out to members of the NCC, and one of those members — the Episcopal Church — reacted by saying it was never informed by the NCC that it was filing the brief, and informed the NCC that it objected to being included.

From the details of the amicus brief, it was hard not to conclude that the NCC was unaware that the lawsuit brought by DeCrescenzo is about a 17-year-old girl forced to have an abortion so she could continue to work 100-hour work weeks for pennies an hour in church employment.

It’s also about Scientology claiming “priest-penitent” privilege over 18,000 pages of evidence that was compiled in DeCrescenzo’s confessional files during her work in the church. The church says its constitutional rights are being violated, even though it is the “penitent” — DeCrescenzo — who has asked for access to the evidence, which was granted by a lower court judge. Also, unlike Catholic confessional, which is between one parishioner and one priest and is not written down, Laura’s auditing and interrogations were recorded in notes that were compiled and reviewed by, the church admits, 259 separate employees.

None of that is in the amicus brief filed by the NCC. Was the National Council of Churches even aware of these issues in the lawsuit? One thing’s for sure — the Episcopal Church was definitely not aware that it was signing on for an amicus brief defending Scientology’s right to hide evidence that it allegedly forced a child to have an abortion.

One of our commenters, Cecily Neville, wrote to the Episcopal Church, and got this reply from an attorney for the presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori…

Thank you for your e-mail regarding the filing of an amicus brief in the pending legal case you refer to.

Upon receipt of your e-mail, I immediately looked into the matter and from that review, I have confirmed that no one working at The Episcopal Church headquarters had any knowledge of the NCC’s decision to sign on to the amicus brief. We have contacted the NCC staff today to express our disapproval of the NCC’s stance in this regard and will also be following up to do what we can to make sure that no similar situation occurs in the future.

We appreciate your bringing this to our attention.

Paul Nix
Legal Counsel
Office of the Presiding Bishop
The Episcopal Church

We spoke to Nix briefly yesterday, who acknowledged sending the message, but then he asked us to speak with Episcopal Church’s communications office, and said he would have them call us, but we didn’t hear anything.

On its website, the National Council of Churches lists Philip Jenks as its press contact, but when we reached him he told us he had been retired for a year. However, he was very helpful and, though he was unfamiliar with the amicus brief filed in the DeCrescenzo lawsuit, gave us an overview of the NCC’s role.

“I know having working with the Council that amicus briefs are often filed on First Amendment issues even when the group involved has practices that would make it ineligible to be a part of the NCC,” he explained.

In the past, for example, the NCC had filed amicus briefs in court cases that involved Scientology and the Unification Church. “We filed those because the government was trying to define what a church was,” he says.

The NCC and its 37 communions, he points out, has nothing in common with Scientology or its beliefs.

Scientology’s petition for a writ of certiorari has been supported by amicus briefs from the NCC and the Rutherford Institute, but it faces daunting odds. On September 30, it will need to be chosen from more than 850 other petitions being considered on that day to remain alive.

Laura DeCrescenzo’s lawsuit has been making its way through the courts for more than four years. In October, Scientology’s motion for summary judgment will be heard in Los Angeles Superior Court.

 
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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Brian_Culkin3FEDERAL MAGISTRATE DENIES SCIENTOLOGY’S MOTION — BRIAN CULKIN WILL TESTIFY IN COURT

On Monday, a telephonic hearing was held in Luis and Rocio Garcia’s federal fraud lawsuit against the Church of Scientology, and yesterday, a federal magistrate brought in to settle a side matter denied a motion by the church.

Scientology is currently trying to disqualify the attorneys for the Garcias, Ted Babbitt and Ronald Weil, arguing that they had violated court rules by working with Robert Johnson, an attorney who had previously worked for the church. Scientology’s key evidence is a declaration by Brian Culkin, a former church member who reportedly received a $350,000 refund in return for submitting the declaration.

Culkin’s credibility has been called into question, and the church argued that he feared for his life after the readers of this blog and users of Facebook ridiculed him for helping the church in the lawsuit. Scientology asked permission to depose Culkin in his home state of Massachusetts under special conditions because Culkin was too afraid to come to Tampa, Florida for a scheduled October 3 hearing.

But Culkin then hired attorney Ray Jeffrey, who has litigated several cases against the church, and Jeffrey said the church’s argument was nonsense — Culkin wasn’t in fear for his life and, as long as his expenses were paid, he has no objection to testifying in court.

Yesterday, federal magistrate Thomas B. McCoun III denied Scientology’s request for a special pre-hearing deposition.

“As discussed at the hearing, Mr. Culkin will voluntarily appear and respond to questions by the Court and by counsel. The parties have agreed to share the cost of his transportation and a reasonable per diem. Given the current posture of the litigation and in light of Mr. Culkin’s willingness to voluntarily appear, the Court denies any request for a pre-hearing deposition,” McCoun writes.

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on August 14, 2013 at 07:00

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