Life teaches us to not be deceived by outward appearances. For example, beautiful religious sites can hide a wealth of deviance, rape, criminality, human trafficking, suicide, and death.
Scientology has some beautiful real estate and yet the Cult is infamous for hiding malicious conduct behind its guarded doors. Of course, Scientology has had its internal culture of violence and cover up exposed many times. A few examples illustrate this point:
- Lisa McPherson died a horrific death inside of Scientology’s Fort Harrison Hotel.
- Sea Org member Jorge Arroyo hanged himself on the Freewinds. His family was told he died of a heart attack.
- Valeska Paris was held captive on the Freewinds for 12 years.
- Scientology’s Celebrity Centre in Hollywood was involved in covering up the alleged multiple forcible rapes committed by Danny Masterson. Tony Ortega reported live from the Los Angeles criminal court on the first day of Masterson’s preliminary criminal trial.
The stunningly beautiful Swaminarayan Akshardham Hindu temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey — the largest Hindu temple in the US — was raided this week by the authorities. As reported by American Bazaar, the raid on the temple was conducted by three US Federal agencies including the FBI:
Workers from India were paid $1.20 and their passports were confiscated: report.
FBI agents and other law enforcement officials raided the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Robbinsville, NJ, following a lawsuit by several workers accusing the temple of exploiting them and paying the equivalent of roughly $1.20 an hour.
The raid was first reported by the local outlet NJ105, which said the agents showed up at the temple before 8 a.m. Besides the FBI, at least two other federal departments, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor, were involved in the action, which reportedly linked to claims of labor and immigration law violations, the New York Times reported….
The Akshardham Hindu Temple used American R1 religious worker visas to bring in workers from India to the temple worksite in a rural part of New Jersey. The New York Times:
The workers, who lived in trailers hidden from view, had been promised jobs helping to build the temple in rural Robbinsville, N.J., with standard work hours and ample time off, according to the lawsuit, a wage claim filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey. The majority are Dalit, the lowest rung in India’s caste system.
They were brought to the United States on religious visas, or R-1 visas — temporary visas used for clergy and lay religious workers such as missionaries — and presented to the U.S. government as volunteers, according to the claim. They were asked to sign several documents, often in English, and instructed to tell U.S. embassy staffers that they were skilled carvers or decorative painters, the complaint said.
Lawyers for the men, however, said they did manual labor on the site, working nearly 13 hours a day lifting large stones, operating cranes and other heavy machinery, building roads and storm sewers, digging ditches and shoveling snow, all for the equivalent of about $450 per month. They were paid $50 in cash, with the rest deposited in accounts in India, the complaint said.
The Church of Scientology has for seven decades used this same pattern of human trafficking and forced labor while calling it religious. Scientology recruits poor people as labor for its Sea Org from Mexico, Eastern Europe, Siberia, and many other impoverished places. Scientology promises a generous wage and a better life in America. Scientology brings these people in on R1 religious worker visas.
The reality of Sea Org life quickly sets in: Forced labor, 90+ hour work weeks, sleep deprivation, and the “pay” can be pennies an hour or nothing. In a “good week” the pay might be $50 — which is still only 50 cents per hour.
Sea Org members from outside the US have their passports taken from them and locked in a safe. These Sea Org members are not free to call home when they want. They are not free to leave.
A Sea Org recruiting piece shows why Scientology needs a slave labor pool of ~2,000 people to run its series of hotels and other operations in Clearwater. Look at the “religious” job descriptions:
Scientology recruits and exploits poor people from outside of America to work making beds, cooking, gardening, doing janitorial work, etc. None of this is religious work; it is all manual labor for pennies an hour.
The Swaminarayan Akshardham Hindu temple in New Jersey appears to be operating exactly like the Church of Scientology:
- Recruit poor people with false promises of a better life in America
- Bring them into America using R1 religious worker visas
- The use of religious worker visas acts to conceal human trafficking and exploitation
- Lock up their passports
- Make them live in guarded dormitories
- Control their movements at all times
- Do not allow them to talk to their family back home
- Ensure that exploited workers only get a minimum amount of sleep
- Demand enormous amounts of labor from the trafficked workers
- Make these workers fear arrest and imprisonment if they try to escape
- Call this forced labor and exploitation “religious work”
- Pay the workers slave wages and justify it because they are “religious volunteers”
This is all part of the corrupt system of religion in America. The Church of Scientology stands out because it exploits the system and its Sea Org members more brutally than any other cultic group. Scientology is also willing to spend enormous amounts of parishioner money to fight it out in court.
The Bottom Line: If your “spiritual enlightenment” requires that other human beings suffer and be exploited, then your enlightenment is false and a lie. Enlightenment does not turn a blind eye to suffering. However, narcissism, conceit, arrogance, and a sense of entitlement does. This is why the religious hypocrites that benefit from human suffering fight to maintain the status quo.
A self-serving view of Karma, a sense that the lower caste Dalit slaving away in the Swaminarayan Akshardham temple or the Sea Org deserve the brutality, exploitation, and indignities they endure daily to survive is characteristic of spiritual hypocrisy.
Religion in America has become an inherently abusive and cruel system that just keeps getting worse. The people at the top get rich by exploiting everyone beneath them in the name of God, the Guru, L. Ron Hubbard, or whatever the Deity is.
In our podcast interview with Katrina Reyes, she shared her horror story of being forced Into the Sea Org at Age 11. This happened when Scientology recruited her mother in Siberia. Katrina had no choice. She had no one but her mother. She went to America and into the Sea Org where no child belongs.
Jesus rebuked the scribes and the Pharisees of his day for the same conduct we see in the Swaminarayan Akshardham Hindu temple in 2021:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. — Matthew 23: 27-28
The outer beauty of the temple conceals the evil within perpetrated by the leaders.
CBS New York reported on the massive raid on the Swaminarayan Akshardham Hindu temple:
Categories: The Scientology Money Project
This is some damn good writing, Jeff . And you are using your skills to tell TRUTH. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart!
Bloody hell Jeff, the parallels to the $sci. cult are more than just a coincidence. Them next, please.
Nice piece of work Jeff.
May this be a wedge in the ongoing work to stop slave labor in religious settings. I hope this may pave the way for law enforcement to stop Scientology’s labor abuses.
I appreciate you bringing something to our attention that would otherwise quickly sink in the din of news noise. The parallels to scientology are stunning. Even more is the fact that authorities would gladly go after the Hindus while leaving scientology to do the same if not worse.
Where I differ from you is in the conclusion that “This is all part of the corrupt system of religion in America.” This seems to suggest that our system is to blame for these abuses. Or that a sizable proportion of religions abuses the system.
IMO, generalizing the abuse of the system actually gives undeserved credence to a pseudo-religion such as scientology. The problem is not the system but unscrupulous bad actors. Such actors are not at all unique to religion. Similar abuses or even outright atrocities abound in political systems, business, government and even more so, systems repressive of religion.
In any event, while my conclusion may differ from yours in this case, I am most thankful that you’re putting the facts out there and “following the money.” Always good to read your blog! Thank you.
Thank you for your reply B.T.C.
Some of our thoughts in response:
If you study religious litigation in America, the same type of lawsuits are filed over and over and the courts almost always refuse to interfere.
1. Religious workers in America are exempt from secular workplace protections as they are classed as volunteers and not employees. As such, they do not have to be paid any money at all. Religious workers can be legally subjected to harsh “ecclesiastical” disciplines. As volunteers, religious workers can be fired for no cause, are not entitled to medical insurance, and will receive no social security when they are old as they do not pay into the system. These people get nothing except what a particular ministry decides they may get.
2. Conversely, there is zero accountability for how religious leaders at the top spend tax-exempt dollars. Most big religious leaders have private jets, live in mega-mansions, and are paid exorbitant salaries and benefits. Joel Osteen owns all of his intellectual property (sermons, speeches, books) and makes the money from it. His church ministry gives him a large media platform.
If you research Joel Osteen, you will see how he manipulates the existing laws to his personal financial advantage. Was that the intent of the Framers of the Constitution? Did the Founders want cynical and self-serving religious leaders and their churches to amass great wealth and power by conning simple believers and covering up for rapists and pedophiles in their midst? Of course not, but this is what it has devolved into in far too many cases.
3. The Mormons have amassed >$150 billion in cash and there is no requirement for them to spend it. The old ban on excess capital accumulation by religions seems to have disappeared due to the inaction of the IRS and the US Congress. Further, the Mormons never had to tell the US Government it had amassed that much cash.
4. In America, religious groups have no obligation whatsoever to make any financial disclosures to the IRS whatsoever so long as they do not earn any unrelated business income. Moreover, religious leaders have no legal obligations to make any financial disclosures to their own rank and file membership.
5. The Mormon treasure horde is only known about due to a whistleblower. This person objected to the LDS demanding a 10% weekly tithe from young LDS couples with the large numbers of children the LDS also demands of them. How can a young couple support, say, seven children and still be expected to pay 10% of their weekly gross income to a church that has over $150 billion in cash reserves? The LDS leadership will not give its members any relief.
6. Religions are not held to account for taking cash donations in exchange for claims that miracle healings, wealth, abundance, and happiness will flow if one sews a seed faith offering. Religions are legally allowed to do this as it is a matter of faith. If a person donates $5,000 and God does not bless them with a 10X return, then the person had a lack of faith. The ministry keeps the money they donated and is under no legal obligation to return the money.
7. Ole Anthony did a masterful expose of how televangelist Robert Tilton used an outside firm to micro-target poor Black communities to prey upon. Tilton poured his budget to buy television time into these communities he targeted. He reaped huge financial returns until Ole Anthony and others exposed him as a fraud and a con artist preying on the poor, the sick, and the desperate. Robert Tilton existed and got rich because the system allowed him to do exactly what he did. Robert Tilton and his ministry were investigated by the IRS but was never charged with anything. Even though he was an immoral and greedy charlatan, the First Amendment gave him permission to do everything he did.
8. The US Congress and the IRS created a bit of sophistry for use by American religions called “intangible spiritual benefits.” This allows televangelists to send people a prayer cloth or a vial of water from the Holy Land in exchange for people sending them tax-exempt cash. “Intangible spiritual benefits” allows any religious group to take tax-exempt cash in exchange for conferring intangible spiritual benefits upon believers. Benny Hinn can blow on people and declare that they are healed. He can take in tax-exempt donations for doing this. It is not illegal. Believers feel these intangibles confer a benefit upon them and so they donate money and deduct that donation from their income tax. This is how the First Amendment works. It seems like a joke but it isn’t: Religion is a “deadly serious activity” as one practitioner of the business of religion remarked.
9. The Catholic Church fought for over 20 years in its refusal to turn over internal records of pedophile priests sexually molesting boys. This is an egregious abuse of the system that has been used by Scientology and other “religions” that want First Amendment protections to keep all abuse hidden and to strip victims of their rights to seek justice in secular courts.
10. Religions use all of the social services – police, fire, roads, and infrastructure and pay no taxes for these services. Why do they get a free ride? Because they have subjective belief systems called “religion.”
11. Religions have increasingly turned to using secular arbitration law in contracts signed by religious volunteers. Scientology is particularly notorious in this regard. The fusion of First Amendment religious protections and American using secular arbitration law creates a virtually unassailable barrier to accountability for the malicious conduct of any religious group.
Our argument is that in America “Religion” can be seen as a legal construct in which any group’s subjective set of “religious” beliefs is automatically deemed sacred and therefore rendered impervious from examination by the courts or the State. This opens the door to the abuses enumerated above and many other human rights violations. These constructed religious legal protections amount to an unfair advantage which benefits monotheists, polytheists, and other religionists while excluding secular persons.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) seeks to show that the American legal system is a construct designed to achieve a pigmentocracy in which White people have all the power and can say who may have rights of participation and who may be disenfranchised by fiat. This construct of law by White people is what creates and perpetuates White Supremacy as defined by CRT.
Extending CRT, one could argue that First Amendment religious protections are part and parcel of White Supremacy as they chiefly benefit White American Evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, Baptists, and other mainstream Christian denominations that are primarily White. These White religious groups form powerful and wealthy voting blocs that keep White elected officials in power. These elected officials are, in turn, beholden to these voting blocs on issues of abortion, race, immigration, guns, education, and every other issue.
First Amendment religious protections and Supreme Court rulings were used to enforce slavery and racism in America for hundreds of years. Cases cited by CRT scholars include, but are not limited to, these notorious SCOTUS rulings:
Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856)
Pace v. Alabama (1883)
The Civil Rights Cases (1883)
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
Cumming v. Richmond (1899)
Ozawa v. United States (1922)
United States v. Thind (1923)
Hirabayashi v. United States (1943)
Korematsu v. United States (1944)
The Mormons excluded Black men from its Priesthood until 1978. This racist ban was not illegal in any way whatsoever — nor could the matter be heard before any secular court. The US Government did not challenge the Mormons on its racist priesthood. However, the US Government had went to war with the Mormons in the late 19th century over the issue of polygamy. The Mormons abandoned polygamy as a result. This sent the message that polygamy is unacceptable whereas racism is not. The Mormons enjoyed religious tax exemption even as they had a racist “Whites Only” priesthood. The Mormons changed their doctrine and allowed Black men into the LDS priesthood due to enormous external pressures from culture. As of 2021, only 2% of Utah is Black.
The US Government’s indifferent and laissez-faire approach to the intrinsic religious racism in America was challenged in the 1982 court case Bob Jones University v. The United States.
In this case, the IRS revoked Bob Jones University 501(c)(3) religious tax exemption due to BJU’s ban on interracial dating. The IRS maintained that racist groups did not qualify for religious tax exemption. BJU sued the IRS. BJU appealed. SCOTUS ruled in favor of the IRS.
This ruling was not a deterrent in any way to those churches associated with White Supremacy or White Nationalism. In fact, these groups do not file for IRS 501(c)(3) religious tax exemption as they consider that formal tax-exempt status places them in servitude to the US Government. As an aside, any religious group is tax-exempt and does not need to file for a formal 501(c)(3) tax-exempt recognition with the IRS. Hence, White Supremacist churches are still tax-exempt. While these groups are anti-Government and racist, they nevertheless enjoy tax exemption and other religious protections.
The Biden Administration has identified White Supremacy as the major domestic terrorist threat. But what happens when White Supremacists claim religious status, i.e. their right to believe that God told them that Whites are superior, and fight this in Court? Does any court have the right to tell religious people that they may not have religious-based racist beliefs?
The Nation of Islam believes that Whites are inherently inferior and that Jews, in particular, are behind the suppression of Blacks. The Nation of Islam has incurred severe criticism for these beliefs, but it has never faced any legal challenges over its religious right to embrace these core beliefs.
The Second Amendment gives Americans the right to own as many assault weapons as they can afford. When assault weapons become part of religiously-based White Supremacist groups, you get private racist militias with First Amendment religious protections. The Biden Administration wants to define these groups as White Supremacist terrorist groups.
But what happens when First Amendment religious protections and Second Amendment gun protections collide with the Government wanting to impose a “terrorist definition” on a religious group? The US Government butchered the Branch Davidians in Waco in 1993 because the group owned weapons and had a stockpile of ammunition. Owning an arsenal in America is not illegal because the Second Amendment says it is legal. Instead of changing gun ownership laws, the US Government deemed the Branch Davidian’s fully legal exercise of US gun laws to be terroristic in nature. The contradiction here is insane. Nevertheless, Bill Clinton and Janet Reno had Federal agents initiate a slaughter in which 76 people, 25 of whom were children, were killed on April 19, 1993. The backlash caused the Government to back off conducting raids on religious groups for fifteen years.
First Amendment religious rights and Second Amendment gun ownership rights exist simultaneously. This creates the formidable legal quicksand in which White Supremacist religious groups can exist. How can the US Government outlaw these groups without violating their First and Second Amendment protections? One of President Obama’s answers was to have the US government purchase as much ammunition as possible form manufacturers and thereby cut off the supply of bullets to these groups. This did not work because bullet manufacturers increased capacity to meet demand — and yet demand for ammunition remains higher than ever. Bullets of all calibers are in high demand and manufacturers are hard-pressed to keep up with the demand.
There are so many intractable problems created by the First and Second Amendments.
The Government raided the FLDS YFZ Ranch in Texas in 2008 and ripped the children out of the arms of their mothers in front of cameras. This was also a PR disaster because the Government has no business breaking up families when it was actually after the sex criminals Warren Jeffs and his inner circle. The FLDS filed an emergency Writ of Mandamus appealing the State of Texas illegally seizing its children and won. The Texas Supreme Court stuck down the lower court that had authorized Texas Child Protective Services to take the children. The Texas Supreme Court ruled that the children were not in any immediate danger
After fleeing and a manhunt, Warren Jeffs was arrested in 2006 and later convicted for his sex crimes against the young girls in the FLDS community. However, Jeffs still leads FLDS from prison.
Why is this even allowed? It is allowed because First Amendment religious protections allow a convicted sex felon to run his White-only polygamist church from a prison cell. Conversely, superstar hacker Kevin Mitnick had to resign from the Board of KnowBe4 when the company went public as convicted felons cannot serve on corporate boards. This is why Martha Stewart cannot serve on the Board of her own company.
We are not alone in arguing that here is a pervasive and widespread abuse of the First Amendment religious protections. These abuses are compounded, in some instances, by Second Amendment protections whereby ideologically-driven religious zealots can own assault weapons and private arsenals.
Without having gotten into the lawsuit much, my initial impression is that if they did any masonry/cement (as opposed to just manual labor) they’re going to have major Joy-zee problem. I’ll have to look more into this.
“ Extending CRT, one could argue that First Amendment religious protections are part and parcel of White Supremacy as they chiefly benefit White American Evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, Baptists, and other mainstream Christian denominations that are primarily White.”
Good point. Extending it further, Why is David Duke and company always shown with a cross of some form or other?
Bob Jumbojets: The Dalit workers did virtually all the work including pouring the foundations, masonry, heavy equipment, etc. The evidence is all there. The trail of permits and inspections is evidence along with what the workers will testify. I would not be surprised to see money laundering in the mix.
Excellent point on David Duke. The way he moved from Neo-Nazi KKK Grand Wizard to a born again Christian rooted in the racist Christian Identity movement was pure semantics on his part. He even worked in conspiracy theories and Holocaust Denials. His plea bargain on Federal felony wire and tax fraud charges was unsurprising as Duke had always pushed the limits.
Duke even used the pseudonym “Dorothy Vanderbilt” to write a self-help book for women: Finders-Keepers: Finding and Keeping the Man You Want. From Wiki: “Tulane University history professor Lawrence N. Powell, who read a rare copy of the book given to him by journalist Patsy Sims, wrote that it includes advice on vaginal exercises, oral and anal sex and advocated adultery. The puritan-inclined Klan was shocked by Duke’s writing. According to journalist Tyler Bridges, The Times-Picayune obtained a copy and traced its provenance to Duke, who compiled the content from women’s self-help magazines. Duke has admitted using the pseudonym Konrad”
Ah, so not only is your “Aryan” (if they can define that) Princess supposed to cook, clean, rear children, help with the crops, and respond to all your desires, she also has to learn Kegels.
It looks like this group has connections to both Modi and the Patels. I’d imagine that they’ve closed the temple to the public and have goon guards around the entrance.
I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to expand on your thoughts. We can both agree that there are a number of bad actors in religion. You would not get much argument from me about the ones you have listed as examples. And I share your outrage that these criminals abuse the special trust and vulnerability that exists in a belief-based (religious or otherwise) relationship.
But given the number of religious people in the US (since we’re talking about US Law, I’ll leave it at that) and the immense good done by well-meaning and sincere religious people and institutions, I would still argue that this amounts to an argument by exceptions.
It also raises the question of how much power we should invest gov’t with in the areas of our homes, families faiths and other beliefs. Arguing from exceptions/abuses, one could posit that the gov’t should take more strenuous efforts at domestic surveillance or should apply less scruple to what constitutes lawful search and seizure to curb the evils that are enabled by these Constitutional protections.
I would also argue that grifters are by no means a specifically religious phenomenon. You mentioned correctly: “The Biden Administration has identified White Supremacy as the major domestic terrorist threat.” I don’t pretend that I am in a position to fact-check how much of this threat is real, especially since we live in an environment where demagogues and hucksters are throwing these terms around with abandon at anyone they disagree with. But I can’t be the only one who thought this statement odd coming on the heels of months of domestic terror from the far left that we were supposed to accept or even embrace as “mostly peaceful protests.” Peaceful assemblies which somehow destroyed countless livelihoods, cost over $2 billion and resulted in numerous injuries and deaths?
The religious scene has its Osteen, Jeffs and others. Other ideologies have their Rev Jackson, Rev Sharpton, blm and “anti-” fa. In fact, I would argue that as the US increasingly secularizes so do the hucksters. To further illustrate this point, when one looks at the “blessings” promised by the likes of Osteen, typical televangelists or scientology even, these “blessings” are invariably material and self-centered.
It seems to me that hucksterism is a phenomenon that stretches across the religious and secular realms alike. And it is truly despicable. The political will to curb criminal transgressions, whether it be scientology or blm (and others like them, of course) seems to be entirely absent. But chipping away at Constitutional guarantees, and trusting our gov’t aparatchiks to do so with unselfish motives is a bridge too far for me.
The only hope that I have is that people will see organizations such as these two (and more) for what they are and that as a people we will unmask these frauds, deprive them of oxygen, prosecute where warranted and move on to better things.
So, Jeffrey, what’s your take on why the Church of Scientology doesn’t get raided? Too sprawled out? Too rich? Not enough evidence (sure not)?