OK, I’ll admit, it looks like I’m trolling for extra traffic with the title of this post, but I’m really just trying to pique the interest of my regular readers (if I still have any after such a long posting hiatus).
The answer to the question is that the case of Headley v. Church of Scientology, case nos. 10-56266 and 10-56278 (9th Cir. July 24, 2012) gives a rather detailed look into the workings of the Sea Organization (or “Sea Org”), the evangelical wing of the Church of Scientology. If some reports I’ve seen are to be believed, Sea Org was a source of conflict that caused the divorce of Cruise and Holmes.
I’ve always heard, fairly or not, that the church was pretty secretive about most things, including its doctrine, organization, and functioning. This decision is the most I’ve ever learned about the church in one place. The opinion is full of the details on church doctrine and rules for Sea Org, including what plaintiffs alleged were coercive methods of keeping people in the organization. You may find it fascinating.
The reason for the lesson from the court is that the appellants are two former ministers who were members of Sea Org, worked at the main camp, and later sued the church, alleging that they were forced to work in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act:
Enacted largely “to combat” the “transnational crime” of “trafficking in persons,” 22 U.S.C. § 7101(a), (b)(24), the Act makes it a crime “knowingly” to “provide[ ] or obtain[ ] the labor or services of a person by any one of, or by any combination of, the following means”:
(1) by means of force, threats of force, physical restraint, or threats of physical restraint to that person or another person;
(2) by means of serious harm or threats of serious harm to that person or another person; [or]
(4) by means of any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause the person to believe that, if that person did not perform such labor or services, that person or another person would suffer serious harm or physical restraint . . . .
So, you’re thinking things must have been pretty bad, right? Well, let’s start with this: the plaintiffs ”each worked more than 100 hours a week, while the Church paid their living expenses and provided them each with a $50 weekly stipend.” OK, that’s pretty tough, but they’re volunteers, right? You bet they’re volunteers! For a really, really long time: at the time of joining, “each Sea Org member makes a symbolic one-billion-year commitment to serve the Church.”
But plaintiffs lose. The Court of Appeals affirms the summary judgment for the church, holding that despite a few isolated instances of force, there was insufficient evidence that force or threats of force were used to keep plaintiffs working, because they were ultimately free to leave the order. Although the district court rested its ruling on part on the ministerial exception, ”derived from the First Amendment’s religion clauses,” which “provides religious employers with an affirmative defense to a claim by a minister when adjudicating the claim would infringe an employer’s religious liberty or would improperly entangle a court in religious matters,” the Court of Appeals finds that because the case is resolved by the lack of evidence and the language of the statute, it does not need to reach the question of whether the ministerial exception applies.