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Vance Woodward’s lawsuit dismissed as judge grants Scientology’s anti-SLAPP motion

Vance Woodward

Vance Woodward

On Monday, Judge Michael Johnson of the Los Angeles Superior Court granted an anti-SLAPP motion and dismissed Vance Woodward’s lawsuit against the Church of Scientology.

Woodward filed his lawsuit in March, saying that he had been harmed by his years in Scientology and asked for money back that he gave for services that he would never have use for after leaving the church. If you recall, we reported in June that Scientology filed a motion to compel Woodward to dismiss the suit and submit his grievances to Scientology’s internal arbitration procedures instead.

Scientology’s attorneys also filed another motion, which they asked to be heard after the arbitration matter, which amounted to an anti-SLAPP. At the time, we noted that it was a back-up plan, and we didn’t expect it to become an issue yet.

However, on September 29, Scientology switched strategies, and asked to hold off on the motion to compel arbitration and hear the anti-SLAPP motion first. Judge Johnson then granted the motion, and we have a copy of his order.

California’s anti-SLAPP statute is particularly strong. It was designed to protect people who are the target of bullying litigation by deep-pocketed firms or organizations who attempt to silence a critic through the courts. That kind of lawsuit is called a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP, and it’s intended to infringe on the protected activities (i.e., free speech or free religious expression) of the lawsuit’s target. An anti-SLAPP motion allows that overmatched defendant to stop a bullying lawsuit in its tracks.

In this case, Scientology claimed that its protected activities of religious freedom were infringed by Woodward’s lawsuit because he complained not so much about a financial dispute, but instead filled his court filings with complaints about the way Scientology itself works. Judge Johnson agreed…

[Woodward’s] claims all relate to religious instruction, counseling and related religious services. And [Woodward] has made a wholesale challenge to the principles and practices underlying Defendants’ religious doctrine. All of this involves religious speech, which is protected under the free speech clause of the First Amendment.

In other cases we’ve been following — particularly a similar lawsuit filed on the federal level by Luis and Rocio Garcia, and a harassment lawsuit filed by Monique Rathbun in Texas — the attorneys in those lawsuits have gone out of their way to make it clear that they are not trying to litigate the way Scientology works, but instead are suing over matters like fraud and harassment, which have nothing to do with Scientology’s claims to be a church.

Woodward declined to comment on the judge’s order.

Said one of our legal experts, “Woodward didn’t seem to litigate this case for a refund. The over-the-top number of pages in his filings, and the personal attacks on Scientology doctrine seemed more therapeutic than anything else. He filed hundreds and hundreds of pages of Scientology writings and asked the court to take judicial notice of the documents. It is a shame because Scientology leader David Miscavige will see this as a victory.”

Here’s the judge’s order…


Woodward v. Scientology: Order

For those who see Scientology’s ‘religious cloaking’ as a cynical manipulation, this is frustrating stuff to read. We’ve seen Scientology say that it’s a church when it results in an advantage in court, but in other lawsuits, namely the Debbie Cook case, we’ve seen the same organization, using the same attorneys, say that its relationship to its employees is purely contractual. In other words, Scientology is a “religion” only when it’s convenient. After all, L. Ron Hubbard sold Dianetics and Scientology as exact sciences before he decided, in 1953, to try the “religion angle.” (And longtime Scientologists will tell you that inside the organization, it’s still a science, and the “religion” stuff is for the lawyers.)

Successful legal challenges to the counseling processes and internal rules of Scientology — and not just about claims of harassment or retaliation or other forms of harm — have been mounted by former members such as Lawrence Wollersheim. But they are exceedingly complex and can take many years. Wollersheim proved in court that Scientology itself was harmful to him, but it took seven years to litigate and another 16 years to collect a judgment. In that sense, perhaps Vance is better off with a quick loss. We wish him the best in future pursuits. And we’re still very partial to the great job he did with us reading Dianetics from cover to cover last year.


UPDATE: Miscavige making more changes

Some of our tipsters have been telling us they’ve been getting some really persistent calls from the church, telling them to make sure and be at the annual IAS celebration (Oct. 17 in England, a week later at local orgs) so they can witness Scientology leader David Miscavige make the biggest announcement ever.

We wondered what that announcement might be, and this morning Mike Rinder, at his blog, has an inkling about what’s going on.

It looks like Miscavige is rearranging the way some of the church’s “social betterment” programs are organized, and the new lineup is already up at Scientology’s website, Under the new rubric, several front groups — The Truth About Drugs campaign, the “human rights” noise, CCHR’s anti-psychiatry parade, The Way to Happiness booklet, and the yellow-jacketed Volunteer Ministers — will be under something called “Voice for Humanity.”

What you’ll notice is NOT in that lineup is Scientology’s embattled drug rehab network, Narconon, which is steadily going up in flames over patient deaths, government investigations, and proliferating lawsuits.

Rinder had predicted to us some time ago that Miscavige might simply jettison Narconon altogether, and he wonders in this morning’s post if Narconon will get shoved off to fend for its own. We’ll see.

But expect the folks at the IAS gala to get an earful about how this rejiggering is the greatest thing for humanity of all time, and then they’ll be told about all the new fundraising opportunities for them to contribute to. Bring your checkbooks!


Posted by Tony Ortega on October 10, 2014 at 07:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS (We read Scientology’s founding text) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

UP THE BRIDGE (Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48

GETTING OUR ETHICS IN (Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING (Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49

PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ


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