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Don’t let the nautical name throw you: Most members of the Church of Scientology’s Sea Organization – reserved for the “singularly most dedicated” of the religious order – live on land. They do, however, wear maritime-style uniforms and have ranks, according to Scientology.org.
Another fun fact: Initiates to Sea Org, as it’s called, are required to sign a symbolic “one-billion-year pledge” to serve the religion. Many people outside the church view the pledge as a basic, if not exploitative, employment contract. Sea Org workers are allotted a weekly allowance of between $24 and $50, according to Sea Org’s Wikipedia page.
Formed in 1967 by the Scientology founder and science-fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, Sea Org initially consisted of a fleet of ships in the ocean reserved for educating the top-tier members of the church.
Only nine years after its formation, the church sold the ships and set up shop at various stations on land, a decision at least partially driven by the formation of families, which the church considers distractions from Sea Org. In the 1980s the fleet was reduced to a single ship called Freewinds that trolled the Caribbean carrying out “advanced research operations” (in addition to serving as a venue for Tom Cruise’s birthday party). Then, in 2008, Freewinds was sealed off for asbestos contamination.
The church’s less-than-transparent explanation of what goes on in Sea Org has been filled in with accounts from former Scientology members and newspaper reports describing forced abortions, child brainwashing, and a military-like lifestyle.
Follow Gregory Thomas on Twitter: @gregrthomas