Scientologists to rule on abuse claims against their church, judge says

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Three former Church of Scientology workers who said they endured “a world filled with abuse, violence, intimidation and fear” in the organization must bring their claims of human trafficking to an arbitration panel of loyal church members, not the U.S. justice system, a federal judge has ruled.

Valeska Paris and husband and wife Gawain and Laura Baxter sued five church entities and Scientology leader David Miscavige in Tampa federal court last April, alleging they were trafficked into Scientology as children and forced to work through adulthood for little or no pay.

But during their young adulthoods in Scientology’s full-time Sea Org workforce, they all signed multiple contracts between 2003 and 2015 agreeing to resolve any future dispute through binding religious arbitration.

They argued the agreements are invalid because Scientology teaches that defectors are “suppressive persons” and that they could never receive a fair hearing from internal arbitrators who view them as enemies of the church.

But deciding whether Scientology teachings render the agreements unenforceable would require the court to interpret religious doctrine, something the First Amendment forbids, U.S. District Judge Tom Barber wrote in his order on Friday.

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