The Church of Scientology has long sought to make its membership contracts irrevocable for the entire lifetime, and the forever, of anyone who signed them. The language of the Religious Services Contract makes this explicit (emphasis ours)
a. My freely given consent to be bound exclusively by the discipline, faith, internal organization, and ecclesiastical rule. custom, and law of the Scientology religion in all matters relating to Scientology Religious Services, in all my dealings of any nature with the Church, and in all my dealings of any nature with any other Scientology church or organization which espouses, presents, propagates or practices the Scientology religion means that I am forever abandoning, surrendering, waiving, and relinquishing my right to sue, or otherwise seek legal recourse with respect to any dispute, claim or controversy against the Church, all other Scientology churches, all other organizations which espouse, present, propagate or practice the Scientology religion, and all persons employed by any such entity both in their personal and any official or representational capacities. regardless of the nature of the dispute, claim or controversy.
b. The abandonment, surrender, waiver, and relinquishment to which I refer in the immediately preceding subparagraph is unconditional and irrevocable and applies equally to anyone acting or purporting to be acting on my behalf or for my benefit, whether I am alive or dead, whether I am disabled or incapacitated, and under any and all circumstances foreseen or unforeseen, in perpetuity, without exception or limitation.
Is this contract enforceable? Can any church irrevocably and forever take away your rights to sue it and its agents?
This was the key question at stake in the California Court of Appeals in the case captioned Chrissie Carnell Bixler, et al., v. Superior Court for the State of California, County of Los Angeles, Respondent; Church of Scientology International, et. al. Real Parties in Interest
Through her attorney, the noted religious law scholar Marci Hamilton, Chrissie Carnell Bixler had appealed lower court Judge Steven Kleifield’s order compelling her and her fellow plaintiffs to submit to Scientology’s binding arbitration in their lawsuit for the harassment, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and other torts they had experienced at the hands of Scientology and its agents after leaving the Church of Scientology.
Judge Steven Kleifield cited Scientology’s membership contract as the basis of his order.
In her appeal, Carnell Bixler argued that the Church of Scientology had no authority over them once they were no longer members. Therefore, the torts for which the plaintiffs had filed their complaint against the Scientology defendants were not subject to Scientology’s religious arbitration.
We watched the Appellate Court hearing on the live court feed. During the hearing we saw what we considered a key legal failure by Scientology. This happened when Justice Moor asked Scientology’s attorney William Forman a truly interesting and pointed question:
Justice Moor: What happens if I went into Scientology in 1980 to check it out and then left after two weeks? If I had signed the contract and was hit by a truck owned by Scientology 20 years later, would I still be bound to the contract?
Attorney Forman: That would be Scientology’s position, yes.
In our view, William Forman lost the case for Scientology when Justice Moor walked him off a cliff with this subtle but crucial question. Forman lost when he asserted that Scientology’s membership contract extends over the entire future lifetime of everyone who ever did Scientology when it comes to any matter relating to Scientology.
We saw Forman’s argument as a blatant attempt by Scientology to protect its malicious Fair Game practices it conducts upon people after they leave Scientology or are declared Suppressive Persons.
Scientology argued that its contract even covers seemingly unrelated matters. So, yes, if you get hit by a truck owned by Scientology 20 years after you decided to leave, Scientology attorney Forman says the Church will compel you into arbitration over its truck hitting you. It is Scientology’s position that you would have no right to sue the Church in a court of law for your suffering, injuries, and medical costs caused by its truck hitting you. Scientology wants to assert its religious authority over a non-member in perpetuity.
The California Appeals Court today wrote:
The issue properly phrased is: after petitioners have left the faith, can Scientology still require that all of Scientology’s future conduct with respect to petitioners – including torts of whatever kind – be governed by Scientology law, with disputes to be resolved solely in Scientology tribunals by Scientology members? We conclude it cannot.
The California Appeals Court closed with a powerful summary (emphasis ours):
As we stated at the outset of this opinion, we hold that once petitioners terminated their affiliation with the Church, they were not bound to its dispute resolution procedures to resolve the claims at issue here, which are based on alleged tortious conduct occurring after their separation from the Church and do not implicate resolution of ecclesiastical issues.
Scientology argues that petitioners simply agreed to be bound by Scientology dispute resolution procedures no matter what. As Scientology puts it, “An ‘irrevocable’ agreement to
‘forever’ waive civil proceedings and submit to Scientology Ethics and Justice Codes in ‘any dispute’ with Churches of Scientology is a condition for participation in the religion.” It
argues that this agreement should be enforced like any other agreement.
Enforcing this provision without regard to petitioners’ First Amendment rights would mean that if the Church or a Church member committed any intentional or negligent tort against a former member of the Church, that former member would be bound by Scientology dispute resolution procedures regardless of the fact that the member had left the Church years, even decades, before the tort. 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 petitioners’ constitutional right to extricate themselves from the faith. The Constitution forbids a price that high.
The California Appeals Court got it right: Scientology cannot contractually bind a person forever by obtaining a waiver whereby the person remains under Scientology’s authority for eternity.
Although it would like to be, Scientology is not the Hotel California.
Scientologists can check out any time they like — and they can always leave!
The California Appeals Court overturned Judge Steven Kleifield’s ruling and ordered Scientology to pay the Plaintiff’s costs:
The petition is granted. Let a writ of mandate issue directing respondent court to vacate its order granting the Church’s petitions to compel arbitration and enter a new and different order denying the motions. Petitioners shall recover their costs.
Bottom Line: The sleazy Scientology gasbag that is the Religious Services Contract blew up in flames in court today and is left a smoldering legal wreck.
Scientology will appeal but good luck trying to put this wreckage of a bogus contract back together again:
Categories: The Scientology Money Project