Scientologist Danny Masterson is on trial, accused by 3 women of rape. Scientology is not on trial per se, but it is inextricably linked to the case.

Reading Time: 10 minutes

CW: Sexual assault and harassment

Over the years, Scientology has skillfully avoided open challenge, often operating in clandestine ways, well under the radar. But there is no escaping the bright lights and media attention of a huge court case, and for Scientology, the Danny Masterson rape trial is huge. It may also include testimony by Lisa Marie Presley, who has not made a public statement about Scientology since she left in 2012.

Masterson is an actor and producer, star of That 70s Show and Face/Off with fellow Scientologist John Travolta, is accused of rape by three former Scientologists, accusations he claims are “outrageous”.

But rather than a case about someone who just happens to be a Scientologist, this is a case about someone who allegedly used his Church membership to “skirt the law.

Scientology is not on trial here, yet it is inextricably linked to the case. Any judgment of Masterson will involve, in some sense, a judgment on the inner workings of the religion (or cult) itself. Journalist Tony Ortega, who originally broke the story back in 2016, said, “This trial is one of the biggest moments in Scientology history.”

For a discussion of Scientology and some of its more worrying beliefs and practices, see Pearce’s previous article “Tom Cruise and Scientology: A lesson in cognitive dissonance” as well as his interview with famous ex-member Chris Shelton.

On top of this criminal case, which refers to incidents between 2001 and 2003, the three accusers have a pending civil case from 2019 with the Church of Scientology as defendant, saying they have been harassed and stalked.

Revealing the inner workings

A pretrial ruling set out how much jurors would hear of the Church’s inner workings, which would go some way to explain why the accusers waited so long before reporting Masterson to police. This entailed the prosecution detailing the religion’s policy of declaring followers as “suppressive.”

Witness testimony has jurors and those watching this case closely a glimpse at what goes on behind the closed doors of the Church of Scientology. And those witnesses fear retaliation for making their claims, something that looks to impede a fair and free project to uncover the truth. As Insider reports:

One of Masterson’s accusers, identified as Jane Doe 1, after emotionally recounting the multiple instances she alleged that Masterson raped her, acknowledged that some 20 years after the incidents she still felt Scientology’s invisible hand.

When asked if she still feared retaliation from Scientology for speaking with authorities, she dryly, without missing a beat, said, “half of this courtroom,” inferring that the organization packed the court.

Indeed, the front two rows of the LA courtroom have been filled with Masterson’s own family and friends, all Scientologists.

Another witness had a panic attack in court while recounting how the Church tried to gaslight her when she internally reported the rape.  Chrissie B. (“Jane Doe 3”) told of how she had been victim to six years of herself and her family being stalked by the Church, and detailed a December 2001 unconscious sodomy-rape, as well as an incident of nonconsensual photographing of a sexual encounter. The women claim he plied them with alcohol before attacking them when they were unconscious.

Jen B., another of the “Jane Doe” accusers, made hauntingly-similar claims of being given alcohol, having sex with Masterson, but shouting “no” when he tried to anally penetrate her, then curling up in a ball, eventually waking up the next morning. Masterson is not accused in connection with these activities, which Jen B. did not consider rape at the time.

Of course, this is the problem with trusting the morality—and resulting system of justice—of a religious cult-like organization over and above secular, societal systems of law and order.

Instead, she has testified over four days, detailing another 2003 incident where Masterson allegedly raped her while threatening her with a gun. The details of the ordeal make for a difficult read.

Masterson’s attorneys have been arguing that the three women have been colluding in their stories to destroy his credibility.

Ethics isn’t what you think it might be

Author, podcaster, and researcher Chris Shelton, an ex-Scientologist who has been very vocal in fighting for the truth about Scientology to be understood by all, spoke to OnlySky about this case. He explained that Scientology’s Ethics and Justice System consists of four levels of crimes: errors, misdemeanors, crimes, and high crimes. High crimes are by definition actions that impede, suppress, stop, or destroy Scientology or Scientologists. Therefore, the highest order of morally bad activity a Scientologist can do is to work against the desires and flourishing of the organization. Publicly disavowing Scientology is a high crime. There is a digital approach that Scientology utilizes, straight from the writing and thinking of founder and sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard: You’re either with us or against us.

“The entire basis of the ethics protection system in Scientology is a mafia setup. As long as you are loyal and an ‘earner,’ you are golden, you are good…. You have Ethics protection in Scientology if you are an ‘upstat,’ if your statistics are going up, which means you’re a ‘producer.’ This is Scientology-speak,” Shelton tells us, “for somebody who is bringing in money or new people, or you’re an important person like a celebrity. I use the term ‘earner’ because that’s what the mafia calls them: same setup. As long as you’re loyal and the dirty laundry stays inside the group and you’re bringing in the money, Scientology will protect you to the ends of the Earth. If you are not that, they are willing to throw you under the bus at a second’s notice.”

After all, as Hubbard wrote in a policy letter in 1968:

The purpose of Ethics is:

To remove counter-intentions from the environment.

Letter as shown in Shelton’s recent video “Scientology Ethics and Justice Explained – The Danny Masterson Case.”

In other words, “Ethics” for Scientology is really only interested in dealing with directions and purposes other than the one Scientology, as an organization, is going in—its purposes and goals. As Shelton says of this, that purpose is “mainly making money…. It is a money-making scam. If something gets in the way of that money flow (or bringing people in or making them Scientologists or making them more dedicated, more indoctrinated, more brainwashed, if you will)…it’s counter-intention.”

This is then the remit of an “Ethics Officer,” whose job is “to remove counter-intention from the environment. If you’re getting in the way of Scientology or its mission,” Shelton explains, “even if you’re a Scientologist—especially if you’re a Scientologist—the Ethics Officer is going to want to see you and deal with you and remove that counter-intention. They are not about helping you as an individual. L. Ron Hubbard’s writings and his policies on this are crystal clear.”

It is clear that Masterson is someone connected with money, influence, and power, so when it comes to a case of rape involving this person, it is clear for Shelton who the Church will protect, and it has very little to do with morality. “Danny Masterson is somebody who knows people. The last thing Scientology wants to do is lose him. They are going to support him.”

Returning to the case: At the time of one of the alleged incidents, Chrissie B. decided to go to the Church’s ethics officer rather than the police because Scientology “had all the answers and I thought they would help him.” She said in court that the ethics officer, Miranda Scoggins, “told me not to use the word rape and she explained to me that you cannot rape someone that you’re in a relationship with…and I believed her.”

The victim was put through an ethics program herself and told she was at fault for her own condition, according to Ortega, who has been reporting on the case on his Substack, The Underground Bunker. There is a common theme of victims being encouraged not to report such incidents to the police that is somewhat reminiscent of the Catholic sex abuse scandal. The accusers, at the time, if they reported the crimes, would each be seen as a “suppressive person” 

Such acts by members can lead to the much-feared expulsion, something that befell Masterson’s own stepfather, who is absent from the courtroom front rows. As one spokesperson has said: “This can be done through criminal acts already recognized by society as unlawful or through the commitment of acts deemed Suppressive Acts in the Scientology Justice Codes — which includes the Suppressive Act of publicly renouncing the faith.” 

Being declared a suppressive

Declaring people suppressive is “no different than the practices of disfellowship, ex-communication and shunning, practiced by other religions when one member of a group engages in unethical conduct which is damaging to the group as a whole,” International Spokesperson for the Church of Scientology Karin Pouw has said.

According to Shelton, as far as being declared a suppressive is concerned, this is the most impactful action of justice that can be meted out against a Scientologists because it means they have been declared a persona non grata, an antisocial criminal. Once you are undeclared, getting that status back is nigh on impossible. “In 27 years of Scientology, I only knew of 2 people who had their declares removed.”

Jen B., one of the accusers, testified in court that “I was a Scientologist and Mr. Masterson is a Scientologist and you cannot report another Scientologist in good standing to the authorities. My understanding is I would immediately be guilty of a ‘high crime.’ High crime comes with the penalty of expulsion from Scientology.… You cannot speak, have contact, anything with a person who has been expelled. Declared a suppressive person is the label I would receive.”

Shelton explains the impact here. “When your entire social network and business network relies on Scientology connections, that’s a death sentence. That’s why it had impact on these women. It’s basically an intimidation and bullying system. And it’s not even might makes right, it’s money makes right. You’re as good to Scientology as you’re earning, as you’re bringing in the goods.”

Scientology is what is known as a “totalist system”—one that takes over the entire life of each member.

“We need to be clear about that. The Scientology punishments are in no way, shape, or form a substitute for official law. And the Church skirts the law, avoids the law, ignores the law routinely. I watched this happen every year I was in the Sea Org. Even a hint or a possibility of a criminal act is covered up, records destroyed, shredded. I’ve watched it happen.”

This intimidation resulted in her waiting a year before reporting the incident to police in 2004. “You can never be a victim [in Scientology],” she testified. “Nothing ever happens to you that you didn’t cause…. No matter what condition you find yourself in, no matter how horrible, you are responsible.”

Added to this, according to Jane Doe 3—Chrissie B., who had waited 15 years before reporting—is the claim that she “pulled it in,” which refers to the idea that she deserved the alleged assault as a result of something she had done in this life or a past one. As Insider states: “Later, she testified that she was told that if she didn’t say no, she wouldn’t be raped, and that providing sex for Masterson was part of her ‘exchange’ and ‘hat,’ or job.”

This represents the idea that Chrissie B. owed Masterson something. “You owe Masterson sex whenever he wants it,” explains Chris Shelton in understanding what the Scientology Chaplain reportedly said to her, “because he’s the ‘earner,’ he’s the ‘upstat,’ he’s a ‘producer’ and this is the Ethics Protection that goes right into play, automatically. These people act to protect the organization first and the individual second. Protect the ‘earners’ first and these women were not ‘earners.’ They were told very clearly, Danny Masterson’s the ‘earner’ and you’re ‘out-exchange’ with him. That’s a Scientology term for ‘You owe him.'”

The ethics officers drafted “knowledge reports,” whereby associates of Masterson would provide testimonies denying the claims.

In reply, Karin Pouw has responded, “As to the statements Jane Doe #3 claims were made by Church staff twenty years ago, this never happened. Jane Doe #3 never reported a sexual assault to the Church as she testified and Church staff never made the statements attributed to them by Jane Doe #3.”

Jane Doe 1 has stated that she agreed to sign an NDA in 2004 and receive $400,000. Similarly, Jane Doe 3 claimed she was threatened with ex-communication if she didn’t sign a document that included the stipulation that she would not sue Masterson.

Of course, this is the problem with trusting the morality—and resulting system of justice—of a religious cult-like organization over and above secular, societal systems of law and order.

A parallel justice system

The Ethics and Justice system of Scientology operates as its own judge, jury, and executioner with regard to errors, misdemeanors, and crimes. With the us-versus-them mentality of Scientologists, anything governmental is seen with a great degree of skepticism and mistrust. There is an element of libertarianism at play here, and certainly in-group/out-group psychologizing. Those who are not Scientologists are seen as “wogs.” Yes, literally taken from the racial slur used in the UK, possibly from Hubbard’s time spent there, to represent outsiders.

“Throughout the materials of Scientology, there is a contemptuous, arrogant attitude toward outside government agencies. This anti-government attitude is fostered within the organization and in the Sea Org especially,” Shelton tells us.

There is a digital approach that Scientology utilizes, straight from the writing and thinking of founder and sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard: You’re either with us or against us.

The secular legal system is not fit for purpose for Scientologists. This is where Chris Shelton, again, has much to say, of his time in the Sea Org: “fraternal religious order, comprising the religion’s most dedicated members”. It is a quasi-paramilitary component to the organization that appears to do a lot of its dirty work. Shelton declared to OnlySky that in the time he was in the Sea Org, he knew of at least three separate instances of statutory rape, sex with a minor involving significantly older men.

“These were covered up. These were kept internal. The parents of the girls involved were Scientologists and so they were convinced that the Church would handle this and handle it better than the outside authorities and law would deal with it. And the offenders were punished. Nine of them walked away unscathed from that. They were put on hard physical labor for quite some time for their crime. But it’s not the same as reporting it and going to prison, which is what they deserved.

“We need to be clear about that. The Scientology punishments are in no way, shape, or form a substitute for official law. And the Church skirts the law, avoids the law, ignores the law routinely. I watched this happen every year I was in the Sea Org. Even a hint or a possibility of a criminal act is covered up, records destroyed, shredded. I’ve watched it happen.”

It could just be that the Chruch of Scientology can do no shredding to escape a conviction here.

Of course, this has all the hallmarks of the Catholic sex abuse scandal, and other scenarios whereby religions think they can bypass secular moral-legal laws in the name of self-preservation. This should be a warning shot across the bow of anyone demanding that the law of the land be upheld for everyone, for people wanting everyone to be treated equally in the eyes of the law, and for any church to be explicitly separated from the mechanics and processes of the state.

No one should be afforded special privilege in these contexts.

The outcome

It could be that no matter what the outcome of the trial is, the Church of Scientology will win. At least, this will be their intention. Shelton speculates as a former insider that either way there will; be fundraising opportunities available. The story right now in the Church is that the accusers are money-grabbers colluding with other former Scientologists, such as actress Leah Remini (who campaigns to spread truth and information on the behind-the-doors activities of the Church). If Masterson loses the case, the PR line could be that he was set up or framed, as it presently is, thus leading to calls for more funding to fight the “wog” system. Standing by Masterson in this case would only happen if his family continue to stand with him.

On the other hand, if the family throws him under the bus, then the Church will too.

But if he wins the trial, then this will present the perfect opportunity for the Church to claim victimhood and persecution themselves, leading no doubt to an uptick in fundraising.

Perhaps the sting in the tail for the Church, however, is the civil suit that sees them as the named defendants in the context of harassment of the accusers.

For those on the outside looking in, things appear to be very tricky for the Church as they go through the PR mill. However, perceptions of those on the inside looking out may very well differ.

And yet, we must not forget the Jane Does here. If they win the trial, then there would be a clear breach of moral, ethical, and legal codes—a tragedy all too common in society still—and it won’t matter a damn what any Ethics Protection Officer might think about it all.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...