Scientology sea org members did not show trafficking victims protection act violations

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Headley v. Church of Scientology International, (9th Cir., July 24, 2012), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a husband and wife, both former members of the Church of Scientology’s Sea Org, failed to show that the Church had forced them to provide labor in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The court said:

The one adverse consequence the Headleys could have faced, had they taken any of their many opportunities before 2005 to leave the Sea Org, was to have been declared “suppressive persons” and thus potentially to have lost contact with family, friends, or each other. But that consequence is not “serious harm”—and warning of such a consequence is not a “threat”—under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

By deciding the case on statutory grounds, the appeals court did not have to pass on the correctness of the trial court’s ruling that plaintiffs’ claims of psychological coercion were barred by the ministerial exception doctrine. (See prior related posting.) Reuters reports on the decision.