So what is the Sea Org, exactly? Are all Scientologists in the Sea Org? Why are so many critics opposed to it? What do Sea Org members do? How do they live? What was the Cadet Org? This page explains.
What is the Sea Org?
The Sea Org, short for “The Sea Organization”, is Scientology’s parish (for lack of a better word). Not all Scientologists are in the Sea Org, but the most dedicated ones usually are. The current leader of Scientology, David Miscavige, is also in command of the Sea Org.
The Sea Org’s organizational structure is an odd mixture of military and corporate management styles, with staff members living in army-like conditions, receiving boot-camp type punishments for misdeeds, and holding militaristic titles within the organization.
When a Scientologist joins the Sea Org, he signs a contract agreeing to serve for 1 billion years (no typo – 1,000,000,000 years). Because Scientologists believe in re-incarnation, the Sea Org member is expected to return and serve again in his or her next life.
For more information on the history of the Sea Org, check out the Wikipedia page.
What do Sea Org members do?
Sea Org members handle most aspects and functions of the CoS. Sea Org members do everything from cleaning the churches to fund-raising, from delivering auditing services to investigating critics, from cooking to executive management.
Sea Org members live together, work together, eat together, and are not allowed to marry outside of the organization.
Who joins the Sea Org?
The huge majority of Sea Org members are the children of Scientologists, or else they are long-time Scientologists who have been in the church for years and years.
This is because not everyone is qualified for the Sea Org. If you have ever taken LSD, or undergone psychiatric treatment of any kind, you are automatically disqualified from joining. However, the children of Scientologists are perfect bait for Sea Org recruiters. Scientology kids almost never do drugs, they have never seen a psychiatrist, they already understand the Scientology lifestyle, they’re eager to get out on their own in the world, they have no property, no career, and few possessions to worry about, and they are young enough to be susceptible to guilt-trips, group pressure, and grandiose promises.
What’s the difference between Sea Org and ‘staff’?
Scientologists refer to ‘staff’ as people who are not in the Sea Org but still work for Scientology. There are certain positions that only a Sea Org member can hold, but there are other jobs that may be held by staff.
Sometimes people join staff because although they want to help Scientology, they have families to support and can’t do it on Sea Org pay. Also, Sea Org members are not allowed to be married to someone who is not in the Sea Org, so sometimes people join staff because their spouse does not want to join the SO. Or, they are disqualified from joining the Sea Org because of drug run-ins during their youth, and joining staff is as close as they can get.
Staff members are paid very little, and often have to keep another job to make ends meet. They live outside of the org, in their own homes, and the church does not provide food and amenities.
How many Sea Org members are there in the world?
We don’t have access to those records, but we’d say probably 10,000-20,000.
What’s wrong with the Sea Org, and why do critics oppose it?
Critics believe that the Sea Organization is one of the most abusive groups in the world. The abuses that go on daily in the Sea Org are all that more egregious because, due to Scientology’s religious status, law enforcement is reticent to investigate. Here are just a few aspects of Sea Org life, taken from hundreds of personal testimonials from ex-Sea Org members, that are decried by critics:
- Sea Org members are not permitted to have children while working for the organization. Couples who get pregnant are either pressured to abort the baby, or they must leave. Often, these people have been in the Sea Org so long, they have nowhere to go, no resume outside of Scientology, no job experience, no finances, no property, and no non-Scientology friends.
- Anyone who leaves the Sea Org without permission is declared a Suppressive Person by the Church of Scientology, and is ostracized from family, friends, and loved ones. It is very difficult to get permission to leave the Sea Org, and one cannot simply quit and then walk out the door. The “approved” leaving process involves up to 3 years of hard physical labor, E-metered confessionals, social isolation and group pressure.
- Sea Org members live in horrible conditions. Unmarried members never have rooms to themselves, regardless of age, but instead live in small rooms with 3-12 other members. Members are often denied proper sleep and are often forced to skip meals because of the pressures of the job.
- Sea Org members are denied proper medical care. They are not provided health insurance, are not given sick days, and the Sea Org will not purchase their medicine for them. If a free clinic won’t provide the medicine someone needs, the Sea Org management won’t shoulder the costs. There are numerous cases of people who have become very ill in the Sea Org, or who had pre-existing medical conditions, and were not allowed to seek medical treatment.Sickness is also treated as the fault of the sick person, because Scientologists believe that the only reason someone gets sick is that they are connected to a Suppressive Person. They believe that you can decide not to get sick. So when someone becomes ill, they are treated as though they have done something wrong by not “handling” the situation.
- Because Scientology has religious status in many countries, labor laws do not apply to the Sea Org. Therefore, Sea Org members have no protection from long and abusive work hours. Many work 17-20 hours days because of the pressures of the job. Anyone who complains is treated as though they are “not getting with the program”, “unethical”, or “not on board”. There are thousands of minors working under these conditions in the Sea Org.
- Sea Org members rarely have more than a few hours off a week. Even during this off-time, they are not permitted to go far from the compound where they live and work. If managements decides that they have not worked hard enough, they are not allowed time off for Christmas, New Years, birthdays or national holidays.
- As only married members get rooms to themselves, many children who join the Sea Org marry very young – sometimes at 15 or 16 years of age – just so that they can have a room to themselves.
- Sea Org members do not have their own phone numbers (unless they are allowed a cell phone), may not watch TV, are not allowed to own a personal computer with internet connections, and are only infrequently allowed to watch pre-approved movies.
- Spouses and family members in the Sea Org rarely see each other. The Sea Org management reserves the right to ship different family members off to work in other countries or areas without any approval from the spouse. Husbands may be sent away from their wives, mothers may be sent away from their children, etc. If the family complains, they are punished.
- Families who have members in the Sea Org and other members who are not in the Sea Org rarely see each other. Mothers and fathers with children in the Sea Org may not call them directly, but must call the organization and ask to speak with them.
- Letters that Sea Org members write to their families, and letters that they receive from the outside, are screened by Sea Org censors for “entheta” (unhappiness, negativity) before they are passed on. Anyone complaining of unhappiness in the Sea Org in their letters is disciplined, and the letter is not delivered. If a family member sends a letter to someone inside expressing concern about the conditions there, the censor pressures the intended letter recipient to “handle” the sender, often with a monitored phone call in which they are made to say how happy they are, and that everything is going fine.
- If a Sea Org member commits a punishable offense, they are sent to the RPF, or Rehabilitation Project Force, which is a sort of boot camp for “bad” Sea Org members. People on the RPF may only eat the food left over after the other SO members have eaten, may not speak to a Sea Org member unless spoken to, are not allowed to walk (they must run everywhere), are not allowed holidays, receive even less pay than SO members, and are required to do hard manual labor for long hours. People can be assigned to the RPF for up to 10 years.
- Members are put under tremendous psychological pressure. They are expected work as hard as need be without complaint, sacrificing food, sleep, family, and off hours. Often the things they are asked to do are beyond the realm of human possibility, and yet they are criticized for not getting these things done, even when they’ve tried as hard as they possibly can. Many Sea Org members who leave cite this as one of the most debilitating aspects of the Sea Org – they work and work and work, and yet their boss tells them it is never good enough. Their bosses, of course, are under exactly the same kind of pressure from their bosses, who are under the same from theirs, and so forth.
Why would anyone put up with those conditions?
What most people don’t understand is that most of the people in the Sea Org either grew up in Scientology, or have been in Scientology for many, many years. They are trapped in a situation where they really believe they are saving the planet. Many of them put up with these conditions because they have been told that this is the only way they can help mankind, and they honestly believe this is so. They may feel that they are enduring hard conditions, but management tells them that the earth is in peril, and that they endure this hardship for the good of humanity.
Since anyone expressing doubt or unhappiness is disciplined, no one is willing to outwardly show discontent. Though a person may be unhappy in the SO, he looks around and sees everyone else wearing dedicated faces and doing their jobs, and thinks that something must be wrong with him for wanting to leave.
Management also paints the world outside of Scientology like an evil place, awash in drugs, sex, and misery. They are told they cannot trust the “real world” law – only Scientology law is good and just, while the legal system outside is corrupt and untrustworthy. While Sea Org members may not be happy, they are constantly told that outside it is much worse. Anyone who leaves is painted as a criminal, a coward, and a traitor.
Since most of them are denied access to the outside world, they have no opportunity to interact with those who are leading healthy, productive lives outside; and moreover, they are encouraged to think that people on the outside aren’t dedicated enough.
Combine all these factors with lack of sleep, lack of food, and lack of time to think, and you might understand why that many people would “willingly” shoulder that kind of abuse.
Why hasn’t law enforcement done anything about this?
Good question. Why don’t you write your congressman and ask?
What was the Cadet Org?
In reading critical testimonies of ex-Sea Org members, you may hear mention of the Cadet Org. The Cadet Org was originally intended as a sort of pre-Sea Org for the children of Sea Org members. However, a few years ago, a ruling was passed that no Sea Org members are allowed to have children. Children were distracting their parents from work, and it was too much financial strain on the organization. So the Cadet Org was disbanded, and is no longer in existence. Now, Sea Org members who get pregnant are kicked out or pressured to have an abortion. If someone who already has children wants to join, the children have to sign the contract, too.