The Sea Organization (Sea Org) is a legally nonexistent Scientology organization, which the Church of Scientology describes as a "fraternal religious order, comprising the church's most dedicated members". All Scientology management organizations are controlled exclusively by members of the Sea Org.David Miscavige, the de facto leader of Scientology, is the highest-ranking Sea Org officer, holding the rank of captain.
The organization has been described by some as a paramilitary and as a private naval force, having operated several vessels in its past and displaying a maritime tradition. Some ex-members and scholars have described the Sea Org as a totalitarian organization marked by intensive surveillance and a lack of freedom.
[the Sea Org] does not have an ecclesiastical organizing board or command channels chart or secular existence such as an incorporated or unincorporated association. [...] Although there is no such "organization" as the Sea Organization, the term Sea Org has a colloquial usage which implies that there is. There are general recruitment posters and literature for "The Sea Org" which implies that people will be employed by the Sea Org when in reality they will join, making the billion year commitment, at some church that is staffed by Sea Org members and become employees of that church corporation. [...] The Sea Org exists as a spiritual commitment that is factually beyond the full understanding of the Service or any other but a trained and audited Scientologist.
The Sea Org was established on August 12, 1967 by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Dianetics and Scientology, initially on board four ships, the Diana, the Athena, the Apollo, and the Excalibur. The Apollo served as the flag ship of the Sea Org.
In 1971, the Sea Org assumed responsibility for the ecclesiastical development of the church, and in particular the delivery of the upper levels of its auditing and training, known as the Operating Thetan or "OT" levels. In 1981, under the aegis of the Commodore's Messenger Organization led by David Miscavige, the Sea Org dissolved the Guardian's Office (GO) and assumed full responsibility for the international management of the Church, later reassigning the duties of the GO to the Office of Special Affairs in 1983 during the corporate restructuring of the Church.
It moved to land-based organizations in 1975, though maritime customs persist, with many members wearing naval-style uniforms and addressing both male and female officers as "sir." In 1985, the church purchased a 440-foot (130 m) motor vessel, the Freewinds, which docks in Curaçao in the southern Caribbean and is used as a religious retreat and training center, staffed entirely by Sea Org members. Sea Org members make a lifetime commitment to Scientology by signing a billion-year contract that is officially described as a symbolic pledge. In exchange, members are given free room and board, and a small weekly allowance. Sea Org members agree to strict codes of discipline, such as disavowing premarital sex, working long hours (on average at least 100 hours per week) and living in communal housing, referred to as "berthings". They are allowed to marry, but must relinquish their membership if they have or want to raise children.
J. Gordon Melton writes that Scientology is an esoteric Gnostic system based on the belief that the self, or thetan, is trapped in what it calls MEST: matter, energy, space and time. Scientology aims to restore the thetan to a state of "total freedom" from MEST through long courses of study and auditing, which rid the thetan of "engrams", recordings of distressing experiences from this and previous lives. The first significant aim of this training is the state of "Clear". Hubbard developed higher levels of training in the Sea Org, enabling the subject to live as an Operating Thetan (OT). An OT is said by the church to be able to experience the self outside the constraints of the body, a process Scientologists call "exteriorization".
According to Hubbard, much of the galaxy was ruled tens of millions of years ago by the Galactic Confederacy, comprising 26 stars and 76 planets, including Earth, then known as Teegeeack. The confederacy was controlled by a tyrant named Xenu, who sent people from other planets to Earth because of over-crowding. Their souls attached themselves in clusters to human bodies, so that each person on Earth became a collection of entities, rather than a single personality. Part of the mission of Scientology is to rid people of these extra entities, known as body thetans. Religious scholar Hugh Urban writes that the Sea Org resembles a group within the Galactic Confederacy, known as the "Loyal Officers" who overthrew Xenu. Urban also describes the Sea Org, with the naval uniforms and ranks, as an idealized re-creation of Hubbard's own World War II military career. He also states that the Sea Org is reminiscent of the "Soldiers of Light" in Hubbard's science fiction story collection Ole Doc Methuselah.
Stephen A. Kent (2001) argues that at least part of the reason for the establishment of the Sea Org was that the Church of Scientology's practices encountered resistance from the American Food and Drug Administration and the IRS, and from the governments of Australia, the United Kingdom, and Rhodesia. Sailing on the high seas meant the church could escape their attention.
In 2000 the number of Sea Org members was listed at around 7,000. As of 2009, the number was listed by the church at around 5,000. Most Sea Org members reside in church complexes in Los Angeles, Clearwater, Copenhagen, London, Saint Hill, and Sydney, with some at smaller centers or on assignment elsewhere.
Estates Project Force
All new recruits are required to complete compulsory novitiate before they are allowed to join the Sea Org, which has been described as a boot camp. During this phase, recruits are not yet considered to be Sea Org members, and are required to address all Sea Org members, regardless of rank, as "sir" as well as having to run everywhere instead of walking. Married couples are separated for the duration of the EPF and are not allowed to have private or intimate contact with each other.
While on the EPF, recruits perform five hours of manual labor every day, in addition to a five-hour study period that consists of studying several Scientology courses, including the Basic Study Manual, an introductory course in study tech, Introduction to Scientology Ethics, a basic course in Scientology ethics, as well as courses concerning the history of the Sea Org and personal hygiene and grooming. Like the RPF, the EPF does not have a definite schedule. A recruit graduates the EPF as soon as all the required courses have been completed and upon successfully undergoing a mandatory security check, they are then allowed to join the Sea Org as full members. Sea Org recruits verbally agree to an 18-point code or pledge as part of a swearing in ceremony. Members formally reaffirm their acceptance of this code annually on August 12, the day when the organization was founded.
In 1967 the Church of Scientology purchased the HMS Royal Scotsman which they renamed the Apollo, which was used as the Sea Org's Flagship. In 1975, the church sold the Sea Org's ships and moved the organization to land bases around the world, which as of 2003, were operating in Clearwater, Copenhagen, London, Los Angeles, Saint Hill Manor in the UK, and Sydney, with smaller offices in Budapest, Johannesburg, Madrid, Milan, Moscow, and Toronto. In 1987, they purchased a ship, La Bohème, which they renamed Freewinds. OT VIII, the highest auditing level of Scientology currently available, is exclusive to the Freewinds and can only be undertaken there. The ship also hosts various courses, seminars, conventions and events throughout the year, including the annual Maiden Voyage celebration.
According to Hubbard, the Sea Org's mission is "an exploration into both time and space". Sea Org members act as goodwill representatives and administrators of Scientology; all policy and administrative posts in the church's key organizations are held by Sea Org members. Most members are given room, board and a weekly allowance of about $75.
In accordance with Scientology beliefs, members are expected to return to the Sea Org when they are reborn; the Sea Org's motto is "We Come Back". Members must therefore sign a symbolic billion-year "religious commitment", pledging to "get ethics in on this planet and the universe." The church contends that the agreement is not a legally binding contract and is merely a symbolic demonstration of the dedication members are expected to give to the organization, and that they are free to leave if they wish. After signing, members report to the Estates Project Force, the Sea Org's induction program; Melton writes that members may take several years between signing the commitment and attending the induction. Once induction is completed, the final decision to join is made.
Members who leave the Sea Org are issued a "freeloader's bill," retroactively billing them for any auditing or training they have received. Although the bill is not legally enforceable, these Scientologists may not receive services at any Scientology organization until they pay the bill and perform an ethics course.
Marriage and family
Sea Org members may marry one another, but are not permitted to marry outside the organization; extra-marital sex is also prohibited. According to Melton, couples with children must leave the Sea Org and return to other staff positions within the church until the child is six years old; thereafter the children are raised communally and allowed to visit their parents in the Sea Org on weekends. Children of members have themselves joined the Sea Org when they came of age. Several former members have said they were advised (or even forced) to have an abortion when they became pregnant to avoid being sent to lower organizations. Scientology presents itself as opposed to abortion and actively speaks out against it in its publications.
Rehabilitation Project Force
The Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) was created in January 1974 as a system of work camps set up by the Sea Org, intended to isolate and rehabilitate members who have not lived up to the church's expectations, have failed security checks, or have violated certain policies. Melton writes that the RPF areas are located within Sea Org facilities, and that there are no locks on the doors.
Many ex-Sea Org members have reported gruelling treatment. According to Melton, there are eight hours of physical work – such as painting, plumbing, and upkeep of grounds – six days a week; the work may involve teaching the member a skill such as carpentry. Members also spend five hours a day studying with or auditing a partner. Former Scientologist Jon Atack argued, in A Piece of Blue Sky (1990), that treatment of Sea Org members in the RPF was a "careful imitation of techniques long-used by the military to obtain unquestioning obedience and immediate compliance to orders, or more simply to break men's spirits ..." One former member, Gerry Armstrong, said that during his time in the Sea Org in the 1970s he spent over two years banished to the RPF as a punishment:
It was essentially a prison to which crew who were considered nonproducers, security risks, or just wanted to leave the Sea Org, were assigned. Hubbard's RPF policies established the conditions. RPF members were segregated and not allowed to communicate to anyone else. They had their own spaces and were not allowed in normal crew areas of the ship. They ate after normal crew had eaten, and only whatever was left over from the crew meal. Their berthing was the worst on board, in a roach-infested, filthy and unventilated cargo hold. They wore black boilersuits, even in the hottest weather. They were required to run everywhere. Discipline was harsh and bizarre, with running laps of the ship assigned for the slightest infraction like failing to address a senior with "Sir." Work was hard and the schedule rigid with seven hours' sleep time from lights out to lights on, short meal breaks, no liberties and no free time ...
When one young woman ordered into the RPF took the assignment too lightly, Hubbard created the RPF's RPF and assigned her to it, an even more degrading experience, cut off even from the RPF, kept under guard, forced to clean the ship's bilges, and allowed even less sleep.
Several scholars, writers and former members have compared the Sea Org to a paramilitary group. In Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography (2008), Andrew Morton described it as a "fraternal paramilitary organization", and wrote that members are instructed to read The Art of War by warfare expert Sun Tzu, and On War by General Carl von Clausewitz. He wrote that Scientology leader David Miscavige created an elite unit within the Sea Org called the "SEALs", named after the United States Navy SEALs, who receive better lodging, sustenance, and uniforms than other Sea Org members.
Lawrence Wright wrote in The New Yorker in 2011 that the Sea Org used small children drawn from Scientology families for what the article described as forced child labour. The article described extremely inhumane conditions, with children spending years in the Sea Org, sequestered from mainstream life.
- Atack 1990, p. 175.
- "What is the Sea Organization?". Church of Scientology. Retrieved May 27, 2015.
- "WHAT IS THE SEA ORGANIZATION?". Church of Scientology International. Retrieved 8 July 2013.
- Davis, Derek; Hankins, Barry (2003). New Religious Movements and Religious Liberty in America. Baylor University Press. p. 48-49. ISBN 0918954924.
- Stark and Bainbridge 1996, p. 213.
- Dawson 2006, p. 38: "Members of the paramilitary Sea Org sign billion-year contracts of absolute loyalty and service to the highest leadership of the Church of Scientology."
- Former member Aaron Judge in Squires, 29 November 2009: "The Sea Org is like a military organization. You live in cramped quarters, are served food in the cafeteria area and you basically work from 8:30 in the morning through to 11:15 at night."
- Former Scientology auditor Bruce Hines in Cooper, 2 December 2005: "It's very much a military organization. You wear a uniform, there's saluting, marching, standing at attention."
- Russell Miller (15 November 1987). "Farce and fear in Scientology's private navy [extract from "Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard"]" (PDF). The Sunday Times. Retrieved 8 July 2013.
- Urban 2011, pp. 124–127.
- Church of Scientology, Nov. 23, 1992: Third Set of Responses to the IRS in support of Scientology's application for 501(c)(3) tax exemption.
- Lewis, James R. (2009). Scientology. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2016-08-18.
- Melton 2003, pp. 44–47.
- Chris Owen (August 1997). "Scientology's Secret Service 2. The Guardian Office (1966-83)". Operation Clambake. Andreas Heldal Lund. Retrieved 8 July 2013.
- Reitman, 23 February 2006, p. 1.
- "IS IT TRUE THAT PEOPLE IN THE SEA ORG SIGN A BILLION-YEAR CONTRACT?". Church of Scientology International. Retrieved 8 July 2013.
- Tony Ortega. "Scientology's Own Promotional Material Attests to 15-Year-Olds in the Sea Org". Runnin' Scared. Village Voice.
- Headley, Marc (2009), Blown for Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology, BFG Books, p. 358, retrieved 8 July 2013
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- Abigail Pesta. "Scientology's Sea Org: A Story of Escape for Katie Holmes and Suri Cruise". The Daily Beast. Newsweek/The Daily Beast LLC.
- Kent, Stephen A. (September 13, 2000). "Brainwashing in Scientology's Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF)". Interior Ministry, University of Alberta.
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- Brian Palmer (December 1, 2011). "What Do You Do on a Scientology Cruise Ship?". Slate (magazine). Retrieved May 29, 2015.
- For an example of the latter, see Reitman 2011, p. 284.
- St. Petersburg Times, 18 July 2004.
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- Melton 2003, p. 50.
- Farley, 24 June 2006, pp. 1A, 14A.
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- Books and papers
- Atack, Jon. A Piece of Blue Sky. Carol Publishing Group, 1990.
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- Melton, J. Gordon. "Birth of a Religion," in James R. Lewis (ed.). Scientology. Oxford University Press, 2009.
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- Squires, Rosie. "The L. Ron scandal," Sunday Telegraph (Sydney, Australia), 29 November 2009.
- St. Petersburg Times. "About Scientology", 18 July 2004.
- Welkos, Robert W. and Sappell, Joel. "Defectors Recount Lives of Hard Work, Punishment", Los Angeles Times, 26 June 1990.
- Wright, Lawrence. "The Apostate", The New Yorker, 14 February 2011.
- Official website of the Church of Scientology
- Lattin, Don. "Leaving the Fold: Third-generation Scientologist grows disillusioned with faith", San Francisco Chronicle, 12 February 2001.
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