Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California Dale S. Fischer, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 2:09-cv-03986-DSF D.C. No. 2:09-cv-03987-DSF
The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'scannlain, Circuit Judge:
February 9, 2012-Pasadena, California
Before: Dorothy W. Nelson, Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, and
N. Randy Smith, Circuit Judges.
Opinion by Judge O'Scannlain
We consider two former ministers' claims that the Church of Scientology forced them to provide labor in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
This case centers around the Church of Scientology International (the Church) and its component Sea Organization (or Sea Org). The Church exercises overall ecclesiastical management of the Scientology religion. The Sea Org is an elite religious order of the Church and acts as Scientology's evangelical wing. The Sea Org demands much of its members, renders strict discipline, imposes stringent ethical and lifestyle constraints, and goes to great efforts to retain clergy and to preserve the integrity of the ministry. These features of the Sea Org flow from the teachings and goals of the Scientology religion.
Scientology teaches that man is an immortal spiritual being that, over time, becomes distressed as his mind experiences moments of pain or lowered consciousness. Scientology maintains, however, that man can overcome that distress-he can become "clear"-by using methods developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Scientology aims to disseminate Hubbard's teachings to "clear the planet"-that is, to help enough people to overcome spiritual distress to free the planet of crime, war, and irrationality. That effort is entrusted largely to the Sea Org.
Before embarking on that effort, each Sea Org member makes a symbolic one-billion-year commitment to serve the Church. A member may make that commitment only after undergoing extensive training and study, passing a fitness exam, and obtaining a Church-issued certification attesting that the applicant is qualified for Sea Org life. During their training, Sea Org members learn that the ministry will require them to work long hours without material compensation, to live communally, to adhere to strict ethical standards, and to be subject to firm discipline for ethical transgressions. The Church, in turn, agrees to provide Sea Org members with all living necessities and a weekly allowance for incidental items.
The Sea Org's lifestyle constraints include strict policies on outside communications, marriage, and children. Sea Org members' mail is censored and phone calls are monitored as part of ministry discipline and policy. Because Sea Org life may at any moment require a member indefinitely to serve anywhere in the world, the Church prohibits Sea Org members from having children unless they leave the order. A Sea Org member who chooses to have a child must transfer out of the Sea Org (but can still work for the Church). And staff members in Scientology's Religious Technology Center (the Center)-which promotes the orthodox practice of Scientology-are permitted to marry only other Center staff.
Sea Org members learn that strict discipline is central to preserving the integrity of Scientology's ministry. If a member fails to meet Scientology's ethical standards, he may be disciplined with verbal warnings or rebukes, loss of privileges, removal from a post, diminution of responsibilities, manual labor, or expulsion. Sea Org members also participate in religious training and practices, including "confessionals." In a confessional, a member confesses transgressions and may then be absolved or disciplined.
This demanding, ascetic life is not for everyone-and is not even for many of those who go through the Sea Org's exten- sive training and preparation. Members thus often wish to leave the Sea Org for a more normal life. A member may formally withdraw his vows and leave the ministry through a process called "routing out." Routing out allows a member to remain a Scientologist in good standing. The process involves filling out a form and normally includes participating in Scientology ethics programs. Routing out can take weeks or months. During that time members are excused from their posts but are expected to continue serving the Church by performing chores.
Some Scientologists leave the Sea Org without routing out -a practice known as "blowing"-but the Sea Org discourages members from doing so. When a member leaves without routing out, other members may band together to try to locate that member and attempt to persuade him to return to the Sea Org. Scientologists believe that such an effort-known as a "blow drill"-is integral to their efforts to clear the planet and to help their members (even departed ones) achieve salvation. So important is this to the Church that a blown member may be disciplined if he returns or may be declared a "suppressive ...