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9th Circuit Court Ruling Says Scientology Didn't Violate Labor Laws

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Marc and Claire Headley joined the Church of Scientology's Sea Org in their teens, where they met and got married. During that time, they performed unpaid labor, sometimes lived on protein bars for months at a time and had all their phone calls and mail monitored. Claire even had two abortions to avoid being banished.

The couple finally did get up the nerve to leave the group in 2005 and later sued the Church under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a federal law that is normally invoked to protect immigrants. But a 3-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Church, saying that the couple knew exactly what they were getting into when they joined the Sea Org, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The court said the evidence overwhelmingly showed that the Headleys voluntarily worked for the Sea Org "because they believed that it was the right thing to do" and "enjoyed it." The couple knew that if they quit the Sea Org, they risked being cut off from family and friends in the Church. But this did not qualify as being threatened with "serious harm." The court added that the couple had many opportunities to leave but they failed to take them.

That doesn't mean the judges thought everything was hunky-dory for the Sea Org volunteers. Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain suggested they consider suing under different laws next time: "They did not bring claims for assault, battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, or any of a number of other theories that might have better fit the evidence."

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The Village Voice has a copy of the ruling along with a rundown of reactions from experts.