Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Scientology Cruise That Never Ends

The Church of Scientology's Sea Org has got to be one of the oddest ideas out there among new religious movements. L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church, served in the US Navy and decided that his new religion needed a Navy of its own. The result was the Sea Org, an organization within the Church with military-inspired uniforms and some sort of ill-defined mission that requires its members to spend their time sailing the oceans on ships owned by the Church. The Sea Org has a reputation for strict discipline and cultish behavior, but the latest accusation against the organization made by a woman named Valeska Paris goes far beyond that. Paris claims that she was essentially kept as a prisoner on board the Scientology ship "Freewinds" for twelve years.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC News) Lateline program, Paris claims that Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige sent her to the ship when she was 18 in order to prevent her family from pulling her out of the organization.

"I was basically hauled in and told that my mum had attacked the church and that I needed to disconnect from her because she was suppressive," she said. "He decided the ship, and I found out two hours before my plane left, I was woken up in the morning and I was sent to the ship for 'two weeks.' "

Paris was born into a Scientology family, but her mother quit the group after her husband committed suicide, blaming Scientology for coercing him out of a self-made personal fortune of more than a million dollars.

Instead of the promised two week stay, Paris found herself unable to leave the ship without an official Scientology escort and was often forced into hard labor on the lower levels of the ship for stretches as long as two full days. "It's hot, it's extremely loud, it's smelly, it's not nice. I was sent down there at first for 48 hours straight on almost no sleep and I had to work by myself," she said.

With just about any other organization these charges would be hard to believe, but unfortunately Scientology has cultivated a reputation that at the very least makes them seem plausible. It's not just the Church's history of odd controlling actions and extravagant fees, but also the apparent mentality within the group that it is under attack and surrounded by enemies. The constant lawsuit threats the Church makes over trivial offenses don't help either, like years ago when it threatened to sue "the Internet" over the existence of Usenet newsgroup alt.religion.scientology on the grounds that "Scientology" was trademarked. In response, the administrators of the offending newsgroup changed its name to alt.butthead.religion.sue.sue.sue. Yeah, Scientology came out of that one looking great - NOT! If Paris' account turns out to be true, it sounds like the organization's reputation will likely suffer a lot more.

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