After an emotional three-day preliminary hearing, in which a judge heard testimony from three separate women alleging that former That '70s Show star Danny Masterson raped them 20 years ago, Masterson is set to stand trial on charges that could land him a 45-year prison sentence. While free on a £2.3 million bail, Masterson has been ordered to surrender his passport and must return to court on June 7 for arraignment. Despite the harrowing testimonies coming through from three women, Masterson has pleaded not guilty. "Memories fade and memories change," Sharon Applebaum, Masterson's attorney, said.
But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo found all three women's testimony credible during the hearing. One woman alleged the 45-year-old former actor raped her while she was unconscious in 2001. Another woman testified that Masterson raped her in 2003. Masterson's lawyer claims Masterson did not have sex with anyone without their consent.
But among those disturbing allegations comes a separate set of detailed allegations regarding the role the Church of Scientology — a somewhat popular set of beliefs and practices among the Hollywood elite and of which Masterson subscribes — played in protecting Masterson and silencing his accusers.
One woman, who claims Masterson raped her in 2003 and who was born into the church, alleges that she "planned to report Masterson in 2004 to the police but a Scientology lawyer came to her family's home to warn her she would be excommunicated from the church if she went forward," as reported by Newsweek. The woman, who was also a member of the Church at the time and who alleged she was raped by Masterson while unconscious, claimed that after she discussed the alleged assault with church leaders, she was instructed to "take responsibility" for the incident.
In her decision to move forward with a trial, Judge Olmedo said that Scientology touts an explicit written doctrine that "not only discourages, but prohibits" members of the church from reporting another member to the authorities. A witness and former member of the Church said the Church of Scientology considers reporting other members to police a "high crime." In a written statement to The Los Angeles Times, Church spokesperson Karin Pouw denied the Church of Scientology having any policy that would prohibit members from reporting other members, writing, in part, that "Church policy explicitly demands Scientologists abide by all laws of the land, including the reporting of crimes." Additionally, in court, Masterson's lawyer argued "the three women had colluded to form a 'sisterhood' that seems to want to take down Mr. Masterson and take down Scientology," as reported by CBS News.
"The activities of Scientology have been so much a part of the evidence that's being put forth as to why these women were not immediately going to law enforcement," Mike Rinder, a former Scientology spokesman, testified during the hearing. He also claimed the church doesn't want its "dirty laundry out into public view."
Masterson's preliminary hearing isn't the first time the Church of Scientology has faced similar allegations. In former King of Queens star Leah Remini's A&E documentary series Scientology and the Aftermath, which aired for three seasons, Remini documented multiple alleged instances in which the church coerced, harassed, and threatened alleged victims of Scientology church members. In the final two-hour installment of the series, which aired in 2019, Remini highlighted Masterson's alleged victims specifically. That same year, four women filed a lawsuit against both Masterson and the Church, claiming that the church "engaged in stalking, invasion of privacy, and conspiracy to obstruct justice."
"I was part of it, I contributed to it. Even if I was unaware, I knew those policies existed," Remini told IndieWire in 2019. "I just didn't really realise that they really did actually apply them." The Church has repeatedly denied all of the claims Remini has made in the media — including in her book and in the documentary series.
Tony Ortega, a former editor of the Village Voice who broke the Masterson story, told Variety that both Masterson and the Church of Scientology are on trial — they cannot be untangled.
"Not only is Danny Masterson a lifelong Scientologist — not only is he a faithful soldier for Scientology, and would show up at events and make strong statements in the press about Scientology — but all three of his victims, the ones that the charges are stemming from, were Scientologists at the time," he said. "So Scientology is very much involved in this story."
As to how much legal liability the Church holds in the Masterson case, Ortega says he's "looking forward to finding out."