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The Church of Scientology’s Rehabilitation Project Force

A Study by Juha Pentikäinen (Chair of the Department of the Study of Religions, University of Helsinki, Finland), Jurgen F.K. Redhardt, and Michael York (Bath Spa University College)



The Sea Organisation

The Rehabilitation Project Force is a programme associated with the Sea Organisation of the Church of Scientology.

The first Church of Scientology was founded in 1954. However, it was not until 1966 that, according to Church literature, "Mr. Hubbard, having retired from his position as Executive Director International, set to sea with a handful of veteran Scientologists to continue his research into the upper levels of spiritual awareness and ability." [4] The group that accompanied Hubbard on this expedition was initially known as the Sea Project but reconstituted itself as the Sea Organisation in August 1967. The SO is described as a "religious order for the Scientology religion and is composed of the most dedicated Scientologists in the world - individuals who have dedicated their lives to the service of their religion. The Sea Organisation is a fraternal religious order and is not incorporated or otherwise organised as a legal entity. Members of the Sea Org therefore are wholly responsible to the church of Scientology for which they work and are subject, as are all other staff of that church, to the orders and directions of its board of directors." [5]

Thus, as this source further explains, the Sea Organisation grew out of the desire of Hubbard, as founder of the religion, to have a "distraction-free environment" to continue with his research into human spiritual experience and develop the theological structures that Scientologists characterise as the advanced religious levels of Scientology.

It is also further explained that, "Having so dedicated their lives, Sea Org members work long hours and live communally with housing, meals, uniforms, medical and dental care provided by their Church employers. A portion of each day is dedicated to training and auditing but they otherwise devote themselves to whatever their assigned tasks may be in the furtherance of the objectives of Scientology… Members of the Sea Org are committed to achieving the goal of a cleared planet through the standard ministry of the religious technology of Scientology. It is a challenge met with unfailing determination and dedication. [6]

The above quotations summarise the Church of Scientology’s own definition of the Sea Organisation. Membership numbers approximately 5,800, less than 1% of the total membership of Scientology.

In a 1996 study by Juha Pentikäinen, a number of pertinent remarks were made about the Sea Organisation, some of which are relevant to the current study:

"The Sea Organisation (or Sea Org) is a special order which was founded in 1967 when Mr. Hubbard decided to retire from his office as the Executive Director of the Church to concentrate on his literary work on board ship. Those who then were first to follow him became the nuclear group of the newly established religion. As time went on this group became a mythical model to be observed and respected as the core of the most devout members of the Church. All members of the Sea Organisation work full-time for the religion by serving on staff of the higher level Churches. Evidence of their dedication is the contract of employment in the Sea Organization ‘for the next billion years.’"

"This kind of religious order in many respects reminds one of the circles of disciples who gathered around such founders of world religions as Jesus or Mohammed or the monastic order of the monks around Prince Gautama when he became Buddha. It is a very specific manifestation of religious mythology and symbolism. As such it is one of the criteria upon which we base our conclusion that Scientology is a new religion."

"The Scientologists most dedicated to their religion - members of the Sea Organization - live a communal lifestyle, take care of each other’s daily and economic needs such as food, lodging and medical needs, wear distinctive uniforms, live by their particular customs, and devote almost all of their working hours to the service of their religion. The Church of Scientology with all its functions is clearly a ‘way of life’ for people serving in a religious order."

Whether demanded by a monastic order or by a modern manifestation of religious mythology such as the Sea Organisation, such a commitment is not something that everyone is prepared to give. Crucial to understanding the RPF programme, therefore, is its function within the context of the Sea Organisation, comprised only of the core membership of Scientologists.

The Sea Organisation's principal bases are in the United States (Los Angeles, Clearwater, New York), Australia (Sydney), South Africa (Johannesburg), Canada (Toronto), Denmark (Copenhagen), Great Britain (East Grinstead), Mexico (Mexico City) and on the vessel, Freewinds, based in the Caribbean. However, the RPF programme is only carried out in Los Angeles, Clearwater, Copenhagen, East Grinstead and Sydney.

The Rehabilitation Project Force

The Rehabilitation Project Force is a programme done by a very small number of members of the Church of Scientology. Neither staff members who work in local churches of Scientology around the world nor the Church’s regular parishioners would qualify to undertake this programme. Only those who belong to the "Sea Organisation" may do the RPF, and then only for specific reasons.

The purpose of the programme is to provide a "second chance" to those who have failed to fulfil their ecclesiastical responsibilities as members of the Sea Organisation. In laymen’s terms, they could be said to be experiencing "burn-out", or to have severely violated the ethical tenets of the Sea Organisation.

One aim of this study was to determine whether the programme violates the fundamental rights of members of the Sea Organisation. Mindful of a number of negative accusations based on accounts from ten or more years ago by a handful of former members who had no first-hand contact with those currently on the programme, we approached the subject with an open mind. As the primary interview material shows we carefully sought to detect conditions that would approximate these allegations.


The Rehabilitation Project Force came into being on the 7th of January 1974. It was formed aboard ship, after Hubbard discovered that either due to negligence, incompetence or for other reasons, some staff seemed consistently unable to carry out their duties fully and responsibly. During our visits, it was explained that the programme was created to offer those staff the opportunity to address and resolve the source of their problem if they wished to remain members of the Sea Org.

Transgressions that might render a Sea Organisation member eligible for the programme would be of the following nature:

  1. serious violation of the Church’s ethical standards (such as adultery or theft of magnitude or of long duration) or
  2. consistently committed serious mistakes or detrimental actions in violation of their staff member responsibilities and of the trust placed in them, despite previous efforts by ministerial staff of the Sea Organisation to help them to overcome these shortcomings.

The theoretical basis of the RPF programme is that staff members who commit transgressions of this character may have a chance to redeem themselves by addressing the source of their ethical problem, resolving it to their satisfaction and that of the Sea Organisation, and thereby attain spiritual betterment and improved competence and ability.

In the written issue, known as a "Flag Order" [7], that established the RPF, Hubbard wrote: "Like industry or any organization or ship before that date, when a crew member stole or embezzled or refused to work he was simply fired and offloaded. Scientology crew members objected to this. They demanded that provisions be made to rehabilitate the person. They had the idea that a person should be given a choice of being off-loaded or rehabilitated…In the RPF the person receives counselling and does work on a team basis. The largest percent of persons assigned to an RPF graduate successfully and rejoin the crew. The majority of these give rave success stories. No other management organization undertakes such a function. They just fire people." [8]

We understand L. Ron Hubbard employed this term (the RPF) in the context typical of his naval vocabulary and is manifest in various aspects of the Sea Organisation (uniforms and other maritime symbols). While we recognize the different connotations the word 'rehabilitation' may have in today's vernacular idiom, the term is now understood in the Scientological sense as explained by a recent graduate [9] as "coming back to good standing, coming back to yourself."

The practise of isolating wayward or fallen brothers from the faithful body of believers is familiar to students of religions. Christianity gives us some classical examples. The Augsburg Confession of 1530 proclaimed the right of the Lutheran Church to excommunicate any member who rejected a fundamental Lutheran doctrine. Paragraph 664-665 of the Jesuits' General Examen and its Declarations states that "one who is seen to be a cause of division among those who live together, estranging them either among themselves or from their head, ought with great diligence to be separated from that community, as a pestilence which can infect it seriously if a remedy is not quickly applied. To separate can mean either to expel the person from the Society completely or to transfer him to another place, if this seems sufficient and more expedient for the divine service and the common good, in the judgement of him who has charge of the matter." [10] And in the New Testament, Paul tells the Corinthians "not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolator, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. "Drive out the wicked person from among you’." [11]

The Programme Framework

Two central elements of the RPF programme that deserve definition are the study of the works of L. Ron Hubbard that make up the scriptural materials of Scientology and the process of counselling, unique to Scientology, known as "auditing". Auditing forms the primary religious practice of Scientology. It may manifest in several variants, but the most typical consists in an interchange between an "auditor" and the person being counselled. The book What Is Scientology? [12], published by the Church, describes auditing as "processes - exact sets of questions asked or directions given by an auditor to help a person locate areas of spiritual distress, find out things about himself and improve his condition."

The RPF programme incorporates auditing and study as part of a regimen that is clearly demanding. It consists of five hours of study and/or auditing a day and eight hours of work, with a minimum of seven hours sleep. The remaining four hours are taken up with eating, personal cleanliness, travel etc. The five hours of study/auditing and the seven hours sleep are mandatory.

"Members of the RPF may not be put on a work schedule which does not allow for 5 hours of study and co-auditing and 7 hours actual sleep time to be sessionable and studentable. Anyone in or outside the RPF issuing orders which cut across the RPF programme by blocking or reducing enhancement may be called before a Committee of Evidence"

[NB. The reference to "co-auditing" refers to Scientology spiritual counselling done with another "twin" and is an integral part of the programme. Being "sessionable and studentable" refers to the requirement that in order to study or receive counselling, one must be adequately rested and nourished. "Enhancement" is the period of study or spiritual counselling. A "Committee of Evidence" is a fact-finding body composed of impartial persons properly convened by a convening authority which hears evidence from persons it calls before it, arrives at a finding and makes a full report and recommendation to its convening authority for his or her action. It is appointed and empowered to impartially investigate and recommend upon Scientology matters of a fairly severe ethical nature. [13]]

The work programme consists of physical labour that is done as part of a team. It can cover almost anything. It is determined based on what will benefit the Church facility where the RPF works. In Copenhagen, the work consisted mostly of carpentry and renovating rooms at the living quarters. In England, RPF members were busy maintaining the extensive grounds and cleared storm damage (such as fallen trees) at the time we were there. Such work also includes regular cleaning of common areas.

The study of Scientology principles and the auditing is tailored for each individual so as to address and resolve the causes of the person’s lapse from standards. The programme consists of training as a Scientology counsellor, or auditor, and then, with a "twin" (another RPF member with whom the person works throughout the programme) engaging in Scientology auditing. One audits his twin and then receives auditing from his twin in a rotation system known as "turn-about." This procedure is continued until the programme has been completed.

Although only a minority of Sea Organisation members do the RPF programme, all new SO recruits are required to complete a programme with some similarities to the RPF before they may be considered bona fide members of the Sea Organisation. This programme, called the Estates Project Force (EPF), is however considerably less rigorous and much shorter. It consists in a daily schedule of five hours study and eight hours physical work, with the five hours devoted to study of the history, purpose, duties, and regulations of the Sea Organisation. No auditing is given as part of this programme. The purpose of the physical labour is to accustom an individual to hard work, as Sea Organisation members are expected to work hard, sometimes for long hours. The aim of the Estates Project Force is to familiarise new recruits with the purpose of the Sea Organisation, and to instil awareness of their duties and responsibilities. The programme also provides them with a period for reflection before undertaking the considerable commitment that full membership of the Sea Organisation entails. Such a screening requirement is consistent with, and actually less severe than, practices by some older religions. The Jesuits, for example, demand that novices engage in physical work such as "working in the kitchen, cleaning the house, and all the rest of these services" as part of an initial test for humility. "One should take on more promptly those [tasks] in which greater repugnance is found, if one has been ordered to do them," states the General Examen and its Declarations. [14]

The EPF programme lasts only a few weeks. Although such is not its purpose, through being introduced to the organisation this way, Sea Organisation members also gain an insight into the type of programme represented by the RPF.

Entrance to the Programme

There are two ways an individual may embark on the RPF programme. A person may either request admission, or he may be assigned to the programme for severe violation of the theological and ethical tenets held sacred by the Church [15].

Under usual circumstances, an individual is assigned to the programme after an internal judicial procedure called a Committee of Evidence. Short of expulsion from the Church, a Committee of Evidence is the most serious of the Church of Scientology’s disciplinary measures, at which a board of peers examines the actions of the interested party. A person summonsed as an interested party before a Committee of Evidence has the right to see and challenge any evidence, as well as to present evidence on his or her own behalf. The Committee then issues recommendations that, subject to approval from senior ecclesiastical management, might include assignation to the RPF.

If the person disagrees with the Committee’s recommendations, he may appeal. If his appeal is refused, then in the case of an assignment to the RPF, he must either leave the Sea Organisation or undertake the RPF programme. The choice rests finally with him/her. If the person decides to leave, s/he rejoins the congregational body of the Church. He/she may not return to Church staff, unless, at some future date, he is willing to do the RPF programme first. A comparison exists here to a monk who chooses not to continue life in a monastery but opts to become an ordinary parishioner.

Assignment to the RPF cannot occur arbitrarily. Even where a Sea Organisation member requests to be so assigned, he must receive authorisation to do the programme.

During the course of our interviews, the most frequent transgressions RPF members cited as the cause of their assignment to the RPF programme, or in some cases, of their request to do the programme, were adultery or sexual misconduct, theft, major violations of Church policy, serious instances of lying and misrepresentation, and severe dereliction of duty.

Once the person has made the decision to do the RPF programme, s/he is first given an explanation of what it consists of. At this point, s/he signs a waiver to the effect that s/he is undertaking the programme by his or her own choice and for spiritually beneficial purposes. This waiver is called "Acknowledgement of RPF Assignment and Election to Proceed." Att. 1

The next step is for the nascent RPF member to read the Flag Orders that describe and define the programme itself. These materials constitute the authoritative references that set forth in considerable detail the daily schedule, the nature of the physical work, the study and auditing regimen, the conditions imposed (such as limited socializing) as well as the rights and restrictions by which RPF members are bound. Once this step is completed, the person, if still choosing to undertake the programme, signs an "Application for Participation in the RPF and General Release". Att. 2

The reading of these issues might several days. The person is by now adhering to the schedule of the RPF and working and studying along with other RPF members. This period of study may be considered an introductory phase that offers the new arrival an understanding of the commitment he has made and makes him aware of the conditions he may expect for the duration of the programme. After completing this educational step, the person is considered a full member of the RPF and is ready to embark on the main body of the programme.

There can be no doubt that an evolution of this nature to a sustained commitment requires dedication and a personal will to continue. The benefits, from the point of view of a dedicated member of the Sea Organisation, are high. It is equally clear that the programme requires a single-mindedness and adhesion to a purpose that some people may not possess.

Whatever the individual choice in the end, the terms and conditions of the RPF are laid out with considerable clarity at the start of the programme, It is up to the individual to chose whether or not to proceed and the decision is his/her own to make.


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