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Can former Scientologists take the church to court? Or are religious tribunals the only recourse?

Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

Garcia said he had signed dozens of arbitration agreements during many years in Scientology. One was required for each course he took. Garcia said the agreements consisted of several pages and he signed them hurriedly when told to do so before enrolling in paid courses.

A federal trial judge in Florida upheld the agreements under Florida law and ordered him to arbitration, a process he described in detail in a sworn affidavit. He said he was denied a lawyer and prohibited from bringing witnesses and that the church’s chief justice officer refused to allow the board to consider most of his evidence. The Scientology panel dismissed his fraud claims but decided he was entitled to an $18,000 check in refunds for deposits he had made for future retreats.

Instead of cashing Scientology’s check, Garcia appealed.

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decided 2-1 this month to uphold the award. The court said Scientology had declared Garcia and his wife “suppressive persons” — a term that refers to people who have been expelled from Scientology — but rejected his claim that suppressive persons could not obtain a fair hearing from the church.

By signing the papers pledging to arbitrate, “the Garcias agreed to a method of arbitration with inherent partiality and cannot now seek to vacate that award based on that very partiality,” Judge Robert A. Luck, a Trump appointee, wrote for the majority.

The dissenting judge said the arbitration agreements referred to Scientology procedures, but none existed at the time the Garcias signed them. Indeed, the judge said, Scientology made up the procedures for Garcia’s case, giving the church an unfair advantage.

 

“You can’t make up the rules as you go along,” wrote Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum, an Obama appointee. “It’s a basic concept of fairness.”

Garcia can ask a larger panel of the 11th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the case. He said his lawyers have not yet decided how to proceed.

On the same day the 11th Circuit decided the Garcia case, the three-judge panel on California’s Los Angeles-based Court of Appeal held a hearing to reconsider its previous 2-1 decision on the Masterson lawsuit.

One of the justices repeatedly questioned why the court should not just allow the arbitration to proceed and then decide whether it was legally sound. The decision by the appeals court, due within 90 days of the hearing, may be appealed back to the California Supreme Court.

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