A civil suit against the Church of Scientology and actor Danny Masterson was revived Wednesday when a California appeals court struck down a lower court’s decision to move the case into arbitration. Lawyers for the church and Masterson had argued that the plaintiffs, four former Scientology members, had signed a contract obligating them to hash out disputes in a closed-door internal system of “religious arbitration” run by the church. While those agreements may have applied when those plaintiffs were active members, the agreements are no longer binding, the court ruled. The three-judge panel wrote, “Individuals have a First Amendment right to leave a religion. We hold that once petitioners had terminated their affiliation with the Church, they were not bound to its dispute resolution procedures.” The plaintiffs are Chrissie Carnell-Bixler, her husband, Cedric Bixler-Zavala, and Jane Doe 1 and 2. They accuse both the church and Masterson of a pattern of harassment that allegedly occurred after they left and that included stalking, threats, being followed, and other unspecified “illegal and unethical conduct.” Masterson has denied the allegations, calling them “ridiculous.” The actor is slated to stand trial for alleged rape in a separate criminal case in August.
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