The suit was filed by women who said they were stalked and harassed by agents of the church after they reported to police that they had been raped by Masterson — a Scientologist who has been criminally charged. The husband of one of the women is also a plaintiff.
Masterson, who was a star on the sitcom That ’70s Show, faces charges of raping three women between 2001 and 2003. He has denied the charges and a criminal trial is pending.
The plaintiffs are suing the church, alleging that after going to the police, they were subjected to a campaign of harassment carried out by its agents.
The plaintiffs said agents of the Church of Scientology surveilled them, hacked their security systems, filmed them, chased them, killed or attempted to kill their pets, set fires outside their homes, and posted ads purporting to be from them soliciting anal sex from strangers. The church has denied any harassment.
The Times generally does not identify victims of alleged sexual assault unless they choose to fully identify themselves.
The church argued that the case should remain out of the courts because the women who are suing signed agreements forfeiting their right to sue the church and agreeing to arbitrate any claims against it before a panel of Scientologists in a process known as religious arbitration.
In a 39-page ruling released Wednesday, the panel of judges concluded that the case could move forward in a court of law because the harassment had occurred after the plaintiffs had left the church.
“Scientology takes the position that petitioners agreed to its dispute resolution procedures as a condition of joining the church,” the justices wrote. “It argues that even though petitioners have left the church, they are still bound by the terms of their contracts. We reject this argument.”
The decision concludes: “In effect, Scientology suggests that one of the prices of joining its religion (or obtaining a single religious service) is eternal submission to a religious forum — a sub silencio waiver of the practitioner’s right to extricate themselves from the faith. The Constitution forbids a price that high.”