Paul Haggis will be allowed to argue at his upcoming civil sexual assault trial in New York that the Church of Scientology is behind a rape allegation against him, a judge ruled Friday, The Guardian reports.
Haggis is accused of raping publicist Haleigh Breest after a film premiere in New York in January 2013. She sued him in 2017, and the case will go to trial next month. Haggis has said that the encounter was consensual, and that the rape charge was a retaliation created by the Church of Scientology for his decision to leave the church and to eventually become a critic of it.
In court documents, Breest’s lawyers have sought to take down that defense at trial, calling it a “speculative fantasy,” and claiming that neither Breest nor any witnesses have any connection to the church. “Haggis has not produced one shred of evidence to support this bogus story,” they said.
Haggis, the Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay Oscar-winner for 2006’s Crash, left the church in 2009 over its opposition to gay marriage. He has referred to Scientology as a “cult” and participated in a 2011 New Yorker article describing the inner workings of the organization called “The Apostle,” as well as the 2015 documentary about the church, Going Clear.
“Haggis is no ordinary defendant in a civil case,” his lawyers wrote in court filings seen by Variety. “He is the most public enemy of a notorious, nefarious, powerful and well-funded institution which is known to destroy its detractors.”
His lawyers say there is substantial evidence that the church was looking to “find dirt” on Haggis even before the rape allegation was made.
But on Friday, Judge Sabrina Kraus ruled that Haggis would be allowed to raise the argument in New York State Supreme Court, citing the director’s “stormy exit from the Church”.
“The jury is entitled to be informed of any possible motive [Breest] may have and about [Scientology leaders’] efforts to discredit Haggis,” Kraus wrote. “Haggis should have the opportunity to present evidence that will show that the church was, in fact, seeking to embroil Haggis in ruinous, false allegations regarding women prior to Breest’s allegations here.”
Kraus’ ruling continues, “He was a member of the church for over 30 years. As a routine part of membership in the church, he had to report any ‘sexual transgressions’ outside his marriage to the church. He rose to a top position in the church. In an interview in 2011 with The New Yorker, Haggis predicted there would be an allegation made against him, that the church would be behind the allegation.”
While Breest was the first woman to accuse Paul Haggis of sexual assault in her 2017 civil lawsuit, four more women have since come forward with accusations, according to The Wrap. Three are in support of Breest’s lawsuit, and one, a British woman, accused Haggis of raping her at a film festival in Italy in June. Judge Kraus also ruled Friday that Breest could not bring up the Italian case at her trial.
A statement from the Church of Scientology following the judge’s ruling stated, “The Church has nothing to do with the claims against Haggis nor does it have any relation to his accusers. The claim is absurd and patently false… [He] continues to shop his scripted story to any who will buy it.”
The ruling means that Scientology could be a major issue in L.A. next month at the trial of That 70s Show actor and church member Danny Masterson, who faces three criminal rape charges, which carry a potential sentence of life in prison.
His accusers have filed a separate civil lawsuit claiming that the Church stalked and harassed them after they reported him to the Los Angeles Police Department, accusations three of the women further testified to in pretrial hearings in March 2021. The judge in the criminal case has indicated that she will permit some Scientology confab in the courtroom, although the defense is still looking to restrict it.