Predictably, the defense team of accused rapist, That ‘70s Show star, and Scientologist Danny Masterson is actively fighting tooth and nail for the S-word (SCIENTOLOGY!) to be kept out of the rape trial—and their increasingly futile attempts at doing so are utterly absurd. Given that each of Masterson’s accusers have repeatedly alleged that the infamous institution kept them from coming forward, the Church of Scientology is inextricable from the trial.
This week, following emotional opening statements, Phillip Cohen, Masterson’s attorney, requested a mistrial, as he was dissatisfied with how many times Scientology had already been mentioned. Judge Charlaine Olmedo quickly denied that request, after Cohen argued that he possessed “no understanding of the nexus or purpose” of the institution’s policies being mentioned in court. Masterson has pleaded not guilty and vehemently denied all allegations.
You might remember that Cohen recently attempted to prolong the rape trial—after a series of delays—arguing that the anti-Scientology sentiments voiced in the Los Angeles mayoral race were “inflammatory” and would inevitably impact its outcome. Cohen then went so far as to discourage Olmedo from even mentioning Scientology at all during the proceedings.“The word ‘Scientology’ never needs to come up,” he said. “If something needs to come up, it can be called ‘the church,’ ‘the organization,’ ‘a club.’”
“I’m not sure what you are asking the court to do now,” Olmedo told Cohen this week after he once again requested a mistrial. “The jury has been told Masterson and his religion look down significantly” on non-Scientologists, Cohen argued. Just hours earlier, he’d likened the first accuser to testify’s alleged assault to “just bad sex,” but that’s a different story, entirely.
One could easily counter that the problem isn’t whether or not the church “looks down on” non-members, but that the proven-problematic institution truly discouraged Masterson’s accusers from seeking justice. After filing a police report, one of Masterson’s accusers, Jane Doe 1—who alleges that she was vaginally and anally raped by Masterson while she was unconscious in 2001—wrote about why she hadn’t come forward earlier in a message to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck: “They [the church] threatened me that if I ever told anyone or reported him to the police that I would be declared a ‘suppressive person’ and lose everything and everyone.” She also detailed that she was forcibly enrolled in an ethics program by officials, while Masterson went undisciplined.“My rapist was not punished at all,” she said. “They didn’t even call him to talk about it. I ended up breaking up with him two months later.”
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Another accuser, Chrissie Carnell Bixler, who dated Masterson from 1996 to 2001, has alleged that he drugged and assaulted her while she was unconscious. During their relationship, Bixler claimed she alerted an ethics officer at the church but was told that because she and Masterson were a couple, what happened to her was not rape. She claimed she later confided in a church chaplain, who didn’t offer anything more than the same apathy. “My job as his girlfriend was to give myself to him whenever he wanted,” Bixler revealed on A&E series, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. “I was to lay there and take it.” Notably, shortly after Bixler’s stint on the show, her husband blamed the church for the deaths of their two dogs, claiming he’d found rat poison rolled up in raw meat in their front and back yards.
The Church of Scientology was always expected to play a role in the proceedings, but when the very first accuser has just begun testifying, and Scientology’s involvement has already been this hotly disputed, it’s safe to assume the trial—anticipated to last until late November—is as much a PR nightmare for the “church” as it is about the alleged rapes. We’ll be looking forward to the emergence of more evidence that the “club” (I’ll say it again: SCIENTOLOGY!) isn’t worth the cost of membership.