Two former ministers of the Church of Scientology lost a bid to a federal appeals court in San Francisco today to sue the church for allegedly coercing them to provide forced labor.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a pair of lawsuits filed three years ago in federal court in Los Angeles by Marc and Claire Headley.
The Headleys joined the church as teenagers in 1989 and 1991, and married in 1992.
They left the church in 2005.
They spent most of their time as church members working at the organization’s 500-acre international headquarters at Gilman Hot Springs in Southern California.
Marc Headley produced religious training films, and Claire Headley worked for the church’s Religious Technology Center.
They argued in their 2009 lawsuit that the church violated a federal law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, by coercing them to provide labor and making them believe they could not leave the ministry or would face serious harm if they did.
But the appeals court, in an opinion by Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, said the couple had “simply not marshaled enough evidence” to meet the standards of the law.
O’Scannlain wrote that the evidence showed the Headleys joined the church voluntarily and “had innumerable opportunities to leave” during travel for their work and visits to relatives.
O’Scannlain also wrote that the church had the right to warn members who were thinking of leaving of “adverse but legitimate consequences,” such as losing contact with church members, that fell short of serious harm.
“A church is entitled to stop associating with someone who abandons it. A church may also warn it will stop associating with members who do not act in accordance with church doctrine,” O’Scannlain wrote.
The appeals court upheld a ruling by a federal trial judge in Los Angeles dismissing the case.
Representatives of the church and of the Headleys were not immediately available for comment.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News