The inclusion of the Church of Scientology in the rape retrial of Danny Masterson was slammed by the organization after the actor was found guilty Wednesday.
Masterson, 47, was found guilty on two counts of forcible rape. The jury was hung on a third charge. A jury of seven men and five women deliberated for eight days before reaching the verdicts.
The “That 70s Show” star was accused of drugging the victims’ drinks in order to rape them. Throughout the trial, each victim claimed Masterson used his prominence in the church – where all three women were also members at the time – to avoid consequences for decades.
DANNY MASTERSON GUILTY IN RAPE RETRIAL
The accusers alleged they were hesitant to file charges due to the church’s strict protocols against public involvement with member issues.
“The church taught his victims, ‘Rape isn’t rape, you caused this, and above all, you are never allowed to go to law enforcement,’” Deputy District Attorney Ariel Anson told the jury during the trial. “In Scientology, the defendant is a celebrity, and he is untouchable.”
However, the Church of Scientology criticized the involvement of the organization in the trial by the prosecution saying the testimonies given by the victims regarding the church’s “beliefs” and “practices” were false.
“The prosecution’s introduction of religion into this trial was an unprecedented violation of the First Amendment and affects the due process rights of every American,” the Church of Scientology told Fox News Digital in a statement. “The Church was not a party to this case and religion did not belong in this proceeding as Supreme Court precedent has maintained for centuries.”
“The District Attorney unconscionably centered his prosecution on the defendant’s religion and fabrications about the Church to introduce prejudice and inflame bigotry,” the statement continued. “The DA elicited testimony and descriptions of Scientology beliefs and practices which were uniformly FALSE.”
The Church denied discouraging members from reporting criminal conduct to law enforcement saying, “Church policy explicitly demands Scientologists abide by all laws of the land. All allegations to the contrary are totally FALSE. There is not a scintilla of evidence supporting the scandalous allegations that the Church harassed the accusers. Every single instance of supposed harassment by the Church is FALSE, and has been debunked.”
MISTRIAL DECLARED IN DANNY MASTERSON’S RAPE TRIAL
Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani explained why the Church of Scientology was adamant on keeping the organization from being mentioned at the “That 70s Show” star’s trial.
“Both the defense and the Church wanted to keep Scientology out of the trial because the testimony made Masterson and Scientology look terrible,” Rahmani told Fox News Digital. “There was evidence that the Church tried to silence the victims and cover up these crimes.”
Rahmani also explained how the victims’ testimony – which did mention the Church of Scientology – did not violate the First Amendment.
“The prosecution didn’t put Scientology on trial or otherwise violate the First Amendment. Rather, the District Attorney’s Office explained why the victims didn’t report the rapes right away, or told Scientology officials instead of law enforcement.”
“The Church has a record of using aggressive tactics against its critics, and this most recent statement is yet another attempt to undermine the victims of sexual assault. The Church should accept the jury verdict and move on, instead of continuing to attack the prosecution in the court of public opinion.”
Celebrity defense lawyer Duncan Levin, who was not involved in Masterson’s trial, agreed that the Church of Scientology played a “significant role” despite the church’s argument.
“This raises important questions about the influence and impact of religious organizations in legal proceedings, especially when victims feel intimidated or silenced,” he told Fox News Digital. “It is vital for the criminal justice system to create an environment where victims feel empowered to come forward without fear of reprisal.”
The attorney, who has worked for celebrity clients such as Harvey Weinstein and Anna Sorokin, added, “While the church argues that it was not a party to the case and that religion should not have been brought into the trial, the judge allowed expert testimony on church policy from a former Scientology official who has become a prominent opponent.”
“Tensions between current and former Scientologists were evidently palpable in the courtroom, and the accusers testified feeling intimidated by certain church members present,” he continued. “The victims showed courage in pursuing justice despite evidently facing harassment and attacks. The civil lawsuit filed by two of the accusers regarding alleged harassment further highlights the complex dynamics at play.”
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Actress Leah Remini, who was once a member of the Church of Scientology, also weighed in on the verdict in a lengthy statement shared to Twitter.
Remini joined the church at the age of eight after initially being raised Catholic. The actress left Scientology in 2013 and has been outspoken in her criticism of the church since.
“The women who survived Danny Masterson’s predation are heroes,” she wrote. “For years, they and their families have faced vicious attacks and harassment from Scientology and Danny’s well-funded legal team. Nevertheless, they soldiered on, determined to seek justice. While it is up to them to decide whether they are satisfied with this verdict, I am relieved that Danny Masterson is facing some justice after over two decades of brutal sexual violence with no criminal consequences.”
Masterson could face 30 years to life in prison. A sentencing date has not been set yet, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo advised Masterson and his lawyers to return to court Aug. 4 for a hearing.
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Fox News Digital’s Tracy Wright contributed to this report.