AUSTIN, Texas (CN) - The Church of Scientology's monitoring of a Texas woman, supposedly ordered by leader David Miscavige, is not protected by free speech, a Texas appeals court ruled.
The Third Court of Appeals in Austin handily rejected the church's argument that the alleged harassment of Monique Rathbun, the wife of a former high-ranking Scientologist, was a protected right of free speech and free association.
"It strains credulity to consider the harassing conduct that Rathbun complains of as having any direct relationship to this issue," Justice Scott Field wrote for the appeals court.
Rathbun's legal battle with the notorious church began in 2013 when she claimed in an explosive lawsuit that the church mounted a three-year campaign of "ruthlessly aggressive misconduct" against her as she and her husband sought seclusion in the Texas Hill Country.
She claims it all started after her husband, Marty Rathbun, fled the church in 2004, after 27 years on the inside. He was known as Scientology's number two executive, behind Miscavige, according to court records.
Her husband spoke out against Miscavige's "criminal mistreatment of Scientology clergy" in 2009, Rathbun says in the original complaint.
The couple met in 2005 and got married in 2010. Rathbun says she has never been a member of the church and did not join her husband in speaking out about Scientology issues.
"Rathbun's only connection to Scientology was her marriage to a prominent former Scientologist," the Nov. 6 appeals court ruling states.
She sued Miscavige, the Religious Technology Center, the Church of Scientology, and several of its members in Comal County, Texas in 2013.
Comal County, north of San Antonio, is where Rathbun and her husband sought seclusion, but they soon discovered a high-tech surveillance camera mounted on a tree near their property and aimed directly at their house, according to court records.
The purpose of pursuing the couple, according to the affidavit of a professional videographer hired by the church, was "to make the Rathbuns' life a living hell" and "to turn their neighbors against them."
The church acknowledged in court documents that it conducted surveillance of Rathbun as part of a "pre-litigation or pre-petition investigation" in an effort to protect the integrity of the church. But the church denied the couple was harassed.
In Rathbun's laundry list of complaints against the church, she says she has been "harassed, insulted, surveilled, photographed, videotaped, defamed, and humiliated to such a degree as to shock the conscience of any decent, law-abiding person."
She also says she has been subjected to "aggressive" intimidation attempts.
"Each and all of the defendants have participated enthusiastically in this abuse, without regard to Mrs. Rathbun's basic rights as a human being," her lawsuit states. "She has been targeted at home, at work, and anywhere else that she happens to be."
While church officials pushed for dismissal of the lawsuit, arguing that their actions are protected rights of free speech, they did not directly address Rathbun's specific complaints, including threats made about her safety to family and friends and closely following her daily movements, the appeals court found.
"Moreover, other than deny having done so, the Scientology defendants do not address Rathbun's allegations that they sent a sex toy to her at work and sent flowers with a 'romantic' message purportedly from her to a female co-worker," Field wrote.
The judge ruled that Scientology officials did not prove that Rathbun's allegations arise from their exercise of free speech or association.
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