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Scientology Drops Quest for Gag Order

SAN ANTONIO (CN) - After explosive trial testimony last week, the Church of Scientology abandoned its quest to silence a former church official it sued for breach of a confidentiality agreement, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

The change of heart came Friday, on the second day of testimony in Bexar County Court, over the church's request for a temporary restraining order to silence former church official Debbie Cook, 50, and her husband, Wayne Baumgarten, both of San Antonio.

On Thursday, Cook gave lurid testimony about abuse she endured while she was a leader of the church's spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, Fla. She testified about beatings, forced confinement and confessions of church officials who had fallen out of favor with church boss David Miscavige.

Cook testified that church officials had held her against her will on several occassions, including a "horrific" 7-week stay in "The Hole," where members slept on the floor, ate slop, were beaten and degraded, according to the Express-News.

Scientology attorney George Spencer Jr. told Judge Martha Tanner, "We have elected to withdraw our request for an injunction at this time. Going forward in the case this way will prevent the defendant from using the court as a pulpit for false statements."

The church sued the couple 3 weeks ago, claiming they had violated a nondisclosure agreement when they sent an email to other church members in December, warning that the church was straying from the teachings of its founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Cook was a member of the church for 29 years, 17 of them in Clearwater. In 2007, the couple accepted $100,000 in exchange for signing the nondisclosure agreements and moved to San Antonio, according to the Express-News. They remained silent for 5 years.

Defense attorney Ray Jeffrey argued at Thursday's hearing that the contracts were void because they were imposed under "extreme duress."

After the hearing, former Scientology member Yvonne Schick, 63, of Austin, told the Express-News she was not surprised by church's decision.

"They miscalculated by letting things get to the point where Debbie Cook got on the stand and testified, although I don't know that it could have gotten any worse than it was yesterday," she told the newspaper. "Because of how well-known and respected she was by people inside the church, this will be bad for morale and cause more people to exit."

In a letter to the Tampa Bay Times, Cook said that her email was "not trying to pick a fight with the Church, nor am I bitter, or blasting or any of the other things concocted by other media outlets. I am simply asking my friends to do their part, the part that Mr. Hubbard asked of all Scientologists, which is to make sure that they only follow the workable technology laid out in policy and bulletins written by Hubbard exactly as he wrote them. This is the responsibility every Scientologist has - to keep it unadulterated."

While not a final victory, Jeffrey was optimistic for his client.

"They are not going to get a summary judgment, and if this case goes to trial, it would be a much larger affair. If a jury heard this set of facts, they would be outraged," Jeffrey told the newspaper.


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