The Church of Scientology’s Rehabilitation Project Force
In this joint article, Professors Pentikäinen, Redhardt, and York examine the history, purposes, and practices of the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF). Their report is based on site trips and research conducted over the course that included interviews with 24 participants of the program. The RPF is a religious program undertaken 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 non-staff parishioners would qualify to undertake this program. Only those who belong to the Sea Organization, the religious order of the Church of Scientology, may do the RPF, and then only for specific reasons. The purpose of the RPF is to provide a “second chance” to those who have failed to fulfill their ecclesiastical responsibilities as members of the Sea Organization. It is based upon one of oldest and most fundamental concepts in religion—a religious retreat in the form of a cloister focusing on intensive spiritual introspection and study and balanced by some form of physical labor. This practice is common to the religious orders of many other world religions in addition to Scientology, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and the monastic orders of the Roman Catholic Church.
However, because the program has been criticized, the authors “examined [the] main claims and included them into our fieldwork questions.” “Based on our first-hand observations and interviews,” they conclude, “we are unable to concur with [the critics’] evaluations. Specifically we found no evidence of physical constraints or coercive means to get or keep people on the programme. Anyone may leave the RPF at any time, and some have done so without completing the programme (and others have returned to it after a while). Some of the people we interviewed had indeed left the programme during the year of our investigation, and, in two cases, people we had interviewed had returned to the programme to complete it satisfactorily. Anyone who exits the programme or chooses not to do it in the first place may remain a parishioner of the Church of Scientology, even though s/he leaves the Sea Organisation. No conditions are attached to departure beyond the usual procedure for any departure from a Church of Scientology staff. Our empirical findings are that there is no evidence that any fundamental rights are violated. Basic needs are taken care of. The individual agrees to any restrictions and may reject them at any time.” In fact, the RPF program allows the possibility of rehabilitation as well as spiritual advancement. “One discovery that the researchers made during this investigation was that progress within the RPF programme and development towards the state of Clear and spiritual advancement beyond Clear as taught and sponsored by the Church are not contradictory, but one can continue and advance in both processes simultaneously.”