Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Ninth Circuit Rejects Ex-Members’ Suit Against Scientology
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Two former members of the Church of Scientology’s elite Sea Organization cannot sue the church for subjecting them to what they claim was forced labor, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.
The court affirmed a ruling by U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer of the Central District of California, who held that Claire and Marc Headley failed to show a violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Fischer granted summary judgment in favor of the church and its Religious Technology Center.
The Headleys, who grew up in the church, joined the Sea Organization—or Sea Org, as its commonly called—as teenagers and were members when they married in 1992. They left in 2005 and have become outspoken critics, described by The Village Voice as being among “The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology.”
A Difficult Life
According to evidence presented in connection with the summary judgment motions, the Sea Org is the evangelical wing of the church. Members undergo rigorous training, during which they are told the requirements of Sea Org life—long hours of work without material compensation, a communal life, adherence to strict ethical standards, and firm discipline for ethical transgressions, in return for which they receive all of their living necessities and a small weekly allowance.
Members may be required to travel anywhere in the world on short notice, and thus must remain childless. Members who have children may continue to work for the church, but not as part of the Sea Org.
Those who wish to leave the order but remain in good standing with the church must go through a process called “routing out,” which takes weeks or months, during which the member must participate in ethics programs and perform chores. If a member tries to leave without routing out—referred to as “blowing”—other members may band together for a “blow drill,” an organized effort to persuade the individual to return, witnesses testified.
Blown members who return may be disciplined, while those who do not may declared “suppressive persons,” a form of excommunication or shunning that may cause a loss of contact with other Scientologists, including members of one’s own family.
Before leaving the Sea Org in 2005, the Headleys worked primarily at Gold Base, the church’s 500-acre headquarters in Gilman Hot Springs, near Hemet. They said they sometimes worked more than 100 hours a week, had their phone calls monitored and Internet access limited, and were sometimes assigned difficult manual labor, sometimes as discipline.
Claire Headley said she was pressured into having two abortions, rather than being forced to leave the Sea Org.
They acknowledged that they had many opportunities to leave, but said the church would have pressured them into returning. They claimed that physical force is sometimes used against blown members, even though that is contrary to the church’s instructions.
Marc Headley has written an expose of the church, entitled “Blown for Good,” which was published in 2009, the same year they filed suit. The church has described the Headleys as apostates and said they were “defrocked” and has called their allegations “salacious.”
Under the TVPA, the Headleys were required to prove that the church obtained their labor through force or threat of force or serious harm or by using a “scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause” them to believe they would be harmed if they did not provide labor.
Fischer ruled that the Headleys failed to present substantial evidence that the church used force or the threat of force, and that their claims that they were psychologically coerced into working were barred by the First Amendment “ministerial exception”—which prohibits a court from inquiring into, or considering the merits of, religious doctrine in connection with an employment law claim.
Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, writing for the Ninth Circuit, agreed, writing:
“[T]he record contains little evidence that the defendants obtained the Headleys’ labor ‘by means of’ serious harm, threats, or other improper methods. Rather, the record overwhelmingly shows that the Headleys joined and voluntarily worked for the Sea Org because they believed that it was the right thing to do, because they enjoyed it, and because they thought that by working they were honoring the commitment that they each made and to which they adhered.”
Nor can the fear of being shunned by Scientologists be considered a harm or the result of a threat, the judge said, because a religion has the right to engage in such practices under the First Amendment. O’Scannlain cited a Second Circuit case involving Jehovah’s Witnesses.
To the extent the Headleys feared the consequences of not laboring for the church, he said, they responded by leaving, not by staying.
Because the Headleys failed to present substantial evidence the defendants used improper means to induce their labor, the judge wrote, it was unnecessary to consider the applicability of the ministerial exception.
The case was argued in the Ninth Circuit by Kathryn Saldana of the Metzger Law Group in Long Beach for the Headleys and by Eric M. Lieberman of New York’s Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman, P.C. for the church.
The case is Headley v. Church of Scientology, 10-56266.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company