-- UPDATE: SETTLED OUT OF COURT, DECEMBER 2010 --
A former Scientologist who says he worked for the movement from the age of just eight and was “a virtual slave” is suing Scientology and its leader, David Miscavige.
“Mr. Miscavige has apparently not taken a vow of poverty,” says the lawsuit.
“He runs the Scientology enterprise with an iron fist, according to his own rules, and enjoys the life style and job benefits of royalty while those at the bottom of the food chain live like slaves and inmates.”
The lawsuit cites the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude.
John Lindstein says he was doing manual labour for the movement between the ages of eight and 12; by the age of 10 he was working 15-hour days; and from the age of 12 was considered to have finished his formal education.
For several years Lindstein worked “as a virtual slave working 16-24 hour days with little or no sleep, no time off and no personal freedom,” says the lawsuit.
On average during his time working for Scientology he says he was paid less than a dollar an hour.
Lindstein “was coerced, deceived and manipulated into providing forced labor for the benefit of all Defendants…” says the complaint.
Lindstein, whose time in Scientology included a period at the International Base at Hemet, California, is suing the movement through the courts there.
He is represented by Barry van Sickle, who already this year has filed lawsuits on behalf of several other former Scientologists.
In this case, Sickle has filed alleging human trafficking, violations of the state’s employment laws and unfair business practices.
He uses the same no-nonsense language employed for the previous lawsuits.
The International Base is described as a prison camp and the workers there as inmates.
The lawsuit also speaks of a “captive” workforce and “forced labor”, arguing Scientology was violating the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution – which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude.
The lawsuit targets Miscavige himself and the Religious Technology Center, the Scientology organisation of which he is chairman. It wants the case heard before a jury and is seeking payment of unpaid wages and damages.
And although Barry van Sickle signs off on the document, Graham E. Berry, another lawyer who has a long history of campaigning against the movement, is also named as an attorney in the lawsuit.
Recruited aged eight
From the ages of eight to 12, Lindstein did manual labour for Scientology at the “International Ranch” near Hemet, California. By the age of 10 he was working 15-hour days.
At 12, he was “deemed finished with schooling” and Golden Era Productions, an unincorporated division of Church of Scientology International (CSI) hired him as a messenger and errand boy.
But in 1997, at the age of 15, he was demoted to the post of dishwasher. “He worked 16-hour days cleaning pots, pans and the dining facilities,” says the lawsuit.
And soon afterwards, he was assigned to do construction at the base near Hemet, California.
“Plaintiff was a minor; however he was required to work long hard, hours for far less than minimum wage.”
Between the ages of 16 and 18, Lindstein worked at Golden Era Productions, one of the units at International Base, where the movement’s top executives including Miscavige work.
Part of that work involved digitally restoring films produced by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard in the 1970s.
“This was tedious, frame-by-frame work that would normally cost more than $400,000 per movie to accomplish at industry rates,” notes the lawsuit.
Lindstein and the team of five that worked with him did it for only 50 dollars a week.
He – and presumably his team – worked 16-hour days, and sometimes around the clock to get the job done.
From 2002 and 2006, Lindstein worked on visual effects for various Scientology films, TV shows and advertisements.
At industry rates, this kind of work would have cost 80 dollars an hour or more; Lindstein got room, board and 50 dollars a week.
During this time, Lindstein “was working extremely long hours, frequently for days in a row with no sleep, and doing work that could have been contracted out to competing businesses and other vendors,” the lawsuit noted.
“By using ‘captive’ in-house labor,” it added, Scientology avoided paying legitimate companies for the work at market rates, saving huge sums of money and enriching themselves at the expense of Lindstein and his co-workers.
“The person in control of this incredible abuse of hard workers who deserve much better, and such flagrant abuse of basic human rights, is the ultimate boss of the Scientology enterprise, Defendant Miscavige,” says the lawsuit.
“Mr. Miscavige derives substantial benefit from the money making activities of the Scientology enterprise.”
Scientology’s corporate structure was “essentially a sham” designed to conceal “the absolute and unchecked control” of Miscavige and make litigation more difficult.
Scientology not only failed to post notices informing their staff of their employments, but actively misled them on this matter, the lawsuit added.
Lindstein also says he had to sign documents clearing Scientology of any responsibility or liability for wrongful conduct – which in itself is illegal under California law, according to the lawsuit.
Human trafficking, RPF
Addressing the issue of human trafficking, the lawsuit set out the various indicators, as listed in the California penal code:
- Signs of trauma, fatigue, injury, or other evidence of poor care.
- The person is withdrawn, afraid to talk, or his or her communication is censored by another person.
- The person does not have freedom of movement.
- The person lives and works in one place.
- The person owes a debt to his or her employer.
- Security measures are used to control who has contact with the person.
- The person does not have control over his or her own government-issued identification or over his or her worker immigration documents.
To reinforce its argument concerning the coercive and oppressive nature of the work regime at the Scientology bases, the lawsuit described conditions at the International Base (also known as Gold Base).
“Gold Base resembles a prison camp, the workers inmates. A razor-wire topped fence encircles Gold Base with sharp inward pointing spikes to prevent escape.
“The gates are guarded. Inmates cannot come and go as the please. Security guards patrol the grounds, motion sensors are place throughout, and surveillance posts are placed around the perimeter, all of which are intended to keep workers within the facility.
“One cannot leave without permission. There are usually three roll calls each day. One must be present or accounted for at each roll call, or a drill is put in place to find and retrieve the departed or missing worker…
“Floodlights are turned on if one is determined to be missing at night,” the lawsuit adds.
“A comparison to a minor security prison would not be an exaggeration.”
Lindstein was “deprived or normal liberties as a matter of course,” says the lawsuit.
There were tight restrictions on freedom of movement; there was no free or uncensored access to email, the Internet or television; and security officers opened residents mail opened, read and censored.
Lindstein was subjected to this kind of control from the age of eight, says the lawsuit.
He “frequently worked all night and typically suffered from sleep deprivation” and “was kept busy, poor, tired, uninformed and in fear that things would get even worse if he did not work as ordered…”
Employees were also threatened with and sometimes subjected to punishment, it added.
“Workers who have been apprehended trying to escape have been physically assaulted and restrained,” says the lawsuit.
They could be sent to a punishment programme know as the Rehabilitation Project Force, or RPF, it added.
“Workers assigned to the RPF are subjected to a brutal regimen of manual labor, have no freedom of movement and are subjected to almost total deprivations of personal personal liberties.
“Working conditions on the RPF are incredibly harsh.
“The RPF serves as a deterrent and intimidates workers… into a state of compliance and fear…”
The fear of being consigned to the RPF, helped coerced Lindstein and other employees into providing “slave-like labor,” the lawsuit added.
For much of the time, Lindstein worked for Scientology because he was ignorant of his rights and intimidated by his employers, says the lawsuit. He was also exhausted a lot of the time and resigned to his plight.
When he eventually found a way out after being “pushed to breaking point” Scientology declared him an enemy of the movement.
He was presented with “a large illegal bill for his purported Scientology training, and cut off from friends and family who are still under the control of the Scientology enterprise.”
---The US Constitution’s First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of religious belief does not exempt “purported religious organizations” such as Scientology from the laws regarding minimum wage and child labour laws, Van Sickle argues.
He has already argued in an ongoing lawsuit that Scientology’s religious status “is subject to serious dispute.
Scientology “intentionally, consciously and wrongfully made a tactical decision to ignore the labor laws, take its chances with a compliant and intimidated workforce,” the lawsuit continues.
The organisation and its leadership hoped that statutes of limitations “would in the long run save them millions of dollars.”
But this case, the lawsuit, had been brought within all the relevant statues of limitations for the offences listed.
You can find a copy of the full complaint here.
--- The 13th Amendment reads: 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
 You can compare the above list with my previous posting on Life at the Base. In addition, a number of former members have said that foreign workers had their passports confiscated when they arrived in the U.S. to work for Scientology.
 All these restrictions have been alleged by former residents including Jeff Hawkins, John Peeler – and Marc Headley, who Van Sickle is representing in another lawsuit.
 This presumably refers first to Scientology’s Freeloaders’ Bill and its policy of disconnection.
 The statue of limitation on a crime is the time after which it can no longer be prosecuted.