An explosive New Yorker exposée on the Church of Scientology is making major waves today. The article profiles film director / screenwriter Paul Haggis (Quantum of Solace, Million Dollar Baby), a Scientology member for 35 years. Haggis left the religion in 2009 over a myriad of reasons. But the catalyst was the church’s implicit support of Proposition 8. In his resignation letter to the church Haggis—whose two daughters are gay—described Prop 8 as a “hate-filled legislation [that] shames us.”
But there were other reasons. Haggis was disturbed by the practice of “disconnection”, in which members are encouraged to cut themselves off from non-Scientologist family and friends. And, perhaps most shockingly, there are allegations of slavery—children and teenagers forced under threats to submit to manual labor for no pay, kept in isolated Scientology compounds, cut off from communication with the outside world. The allegations of slavery come from former members for Sea Org, an arm of Scientology in which dedicated members live and operate in military-like conditions.
In 2009, a married couple, former Sea Org members Claire and Marc Headley sued the church for being pressured into aborting two pregnancies. Their suits include allegations of human trafficking. The St. Petersburg Times, which has published several investigative pieces on Scientology over the years, reported today that the FBI is in the middle of investigating human trafficking within the church. (The New York Post, also, has a piece on this FBI human trafficking investigation.)
Haggis compared these allegations to the child slavery he witnessed in Haiti. If these allegations are true, Haggis’ comparison is an accurate one. Free the Slaves President Kevin Bales defines slavery as “one person controlling another person… with the threat of violence, exploiting them economically, paying them absolutely nothing. It’s really about when a person can’t walk away from the situation they’re in, and someone’s controlling their free will.” Often, modern-day slave masters saddle their victims with bogus debts they can never pay off.
Here is a passage from the New Yorker piece, describing Scientology’s alleged exploitative labor practices:
“Many Sea Org volunteers find themselves with no viable options for adulthood. If they try to leave, the church presents them with a ‘freeloader tab’… the bill can amount to more than a hundred thousand dollars. Payment is required in order to leave in good standing. ‘Many of them actually pay it,’ Haggis said. ‘They leave, they’re ashamed of what they’ve done, they’ve got no money, no job history, they’re lost, they just disappear.’
“Sea Org members who [fail to pay the tab] may be sent to one of the church’s several Rehabilitation Project Force locations. Defectors describe them as punitive reëducation camps… heavily guarded… anyone who tried to flee would be tracked down and subjected to further punishment.”