Over the past few years things have begun to open up and Scientology's ruthless message discipline seems to be breaking down. Former members are becoming more emboldened and the Tampa Bay Times started a landmark series on their neighbor across the bay. And now, suddenly, it's open season on the Church of Scientology. It is facing a multipronged media attack. Books by prominent authors have drawn major press coverage and a thinly veiled biopic of L. Ron Hubbard drew the ire of Scientologists.
The open disgruntlement of followers, disenchanted after having turned over huge sums for a dubious real estate scheme, has people seriously questioning whether this is the beginning of the end for an organization claiming a massive expansion. Some of the major funders of Ideal Org building purchases and renovations have become angry enough over a venture that has only seemed to enrich the central organization that they are suing.
A new book, Going Clear, by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright has been making the rounds and making waves, but one of the most damning critiques is coming from Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige's own niece. In Beyond Belief, Jenna Miscavige Hill tells her story of what could fairly be described as a childhood of slave labor and teen years spent under cruel oppression.
Scientology seems like an equal opportunity abuser but, as is so typical, women and children are subject to extraordinary control and exploitation—particularly in their religious order Sea Org. Women sacrifice their reproductive freedom. Marriage within the order is accepted as long as couples agree not to have children. Women who get pregnant are coerced into aborting or put into filthy rehabilitation centers where they are forced into hard, physical labor, and other conditions that are decidedly unsafe for pregnant women.
Children of Sea Org parents, like third-generation Scientologist Miscavige Hill, are also a cheap labor force. She spent her early childhood on "the Ranch," receiving a minimal Scientology-only education and putting in a six-day week of hard, physical labor. These small children do mainly construction and landscaping, wielding dangerous equipment and hauling rocks and dirt. She rarely saw her parents and all her phone conversations with them were supervised. At age seven she signed one of Sea Org's thousand year contracts and took on even more adult responsibilities.