A Texas woman can sue the Church of Scientology International and several church members for harassment, a state appeals court ruled Friday.
The 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin rejected the church’s request to throw out the lawsuit by Monique Rathbun, who alleged that Scientologists conducted a three-year harassment campaign when her husband, Marty Rathbun, began speaking out against church activities in 2010.
The lawsuit claimed church members followed the Rathbuns with cameras, installed surveillance cameras to monitor their Corpus Christi-area home and hired private investigators to spread disparaging information about Marty Rathbun under the guise of interviewing family, friends and co-workers.
Lawyers for the church have acknowledged that the Rathbuns, accused by the church of distorting the faith’s teachings, were investigated in an effort to protect the integrity of the church, but denied that they were harassed.
Church lawyers said the activities — which they characterized as holding protest signs, attempting to speak to passers-by and filming a documentary defending the Church of Scientology — were protected by the rights of free speech and free association, court records show. The conduct also was protected because it involved a matter of public concern — protecting Scientology’s doctrines from being attacked and usurped by Marty Rathbun, church lawyers said.
The appeals court rejected the arguments.
“It strains credulity to consider the harassing conduct that Rathbun complains of as having any direct relationship to this issue,” said the opinion, written by Justice Scott Field.
The appeals court, however, overturned District Judge Dib Waldrip’s order that Scientology pay Rathbun’s legal fees in fighting the motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Waldrip didn’t conclude that the motion was frivolous or intended to delay proceedings, a necessary finding to award fees, Field wrote.
The internationally watched case revolves around Marty Rathbun, a former high-ranking member who left the Church of Scientology in 2004 and later accused David Miscavige, Scientology’s highest ranking official, of physically and psychologically abusing church members, court records show.
In October 2012, according to Monique Rathbun’s lawsuit, the Rathbuns discovered surveillance cameras pointed at their Corpus Christi-area home from a nearby rental house. After moving to a rural location near Bulverde, they found high-tech surveillance cameras that an investigator hired by the church had placed in the woods behind their home, the lawsuit said.
The purpose was to “make the Rathbuns’ life a living hell” and to “turn their neighbors against them,” according to court records that include a sworn affidavit from a videographer hired by Scientologists to follow the couple.
The efforts followed church policy to attack those who seek to damage Scientology, the lawsuit argued.
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