FOLLOWING the news this week that “Church” of Scientology is infiltrating UK prisons via an anti-drug outfit called Criminon, a law suit has been launched in the US against the cult by a former member and his wife.
In the test case Marc Headley and his wife, Claire, say they were treated like slaves and forced to work 20-hour days almost continually through the year.
Both, according to this report, were members of Sea Org, the Scientologists’ “religious order”, and a supposedly elite vanguard made up of its most dedicated recruits. They signed up to the religion when they were still teenagers.
Members of the order sign a billion-year pledge of loyalty, promise not to have children, and live and work communally.
Headley, 36, says he devoted half his life to Scientology but started to question it while earning 39 cents an hour mass-producing cassettes which, he said, cost the cult a dollar a pop, but were each sold for $75. In 15 years, he earned just $29,000.
Now, the couple are seeking back pay and overtime that their lawyer says could amount to $1 million (Â£660,000) each from the organisation.
Barry Van Sickle, a California lawyer who represents the Headleys, said:
This is a test case. We didn’t do this to make a big bunch of money for the Headleys. The idea was that if we could make [the Scientologists] comply with the labour laws, people could get some sleep at night, have some money in their pocket and be harder to control.
Headley, who has written a book about his life in Scientology, claims that he was subjected to “upper indoctrination training routines” by Hollywood actor Tom Cruise for three weeks. Cruise would instruct him to speak to a book, bottle and ashtray, even giving the objects orders.
Sea Org, short for Sea Organisation, was set up by Hubbard to accompany him on his proselytising sea journeys. It members – said by the church to number 6,000 – still sometimes tart themselves up in ridiculous naval-type uniforms.
Although they work at all major Scientology centres including Saint Hill, its British HQ Near East Grinstead, many Sea Org members are based at a 500-acre gated compound outside Los Angeles.
Van Sickle said he had an ex-Scientologist client who first signed a Sea Org contract when he was only four years old.
When you’re 15 or 16-years-old, as the Headleys were, they take you out of your home and out of high school, and make you a bunch of promises.
He said he was surprised to find that Sea Org members who served in it for 15 years were still on the bottom Scientology rung.
It’s a slave labour force that the leaders have no intention of letting rise up the ladder.
Scientology has recently come under attack around the world. It was denounced in the Australian parliament and narrowly escaped being banned in France after being prosecuted for fraud.
It suffered a high-profile defection last October when the Hollywood director Paul Haggis left, claiming it was homophobic and its officials had lied about its practices.
A week ago, a federal judge in Los Angeles dismissed part of Mrs Headley’s suit, siding with the Scientologists’ contention that she was exempt from wage requirements because she was part of “a religious order”.
However, Van Sickle said that the ruling did not address two more serious claims – that the “church” coerces Sea Org members to get abortions and that it engages in forced labour.
Hat tip: PaulEd