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LOS ANGELES (CAP) - Responding to a report in The New Yorker that it is under investigation for human trafficking and using forced free labor, the Church of Scientology fired back this week, saying the ordering of church members to do grueling work in exchange for little or no money is nothing more than an extremely active internship program.
"Some of the world's most successful organizations and businesses have similar internship programs," explained Tommy Davis, the chief spokesperson for the Church of Scientology International. "Umm ... IBM, for example."
When pointed out that IBM interns get paid about $20 an hour and gain valuable business experience, while Scientology members get paid about $50 a week to perform chores such as scrubbing Scientology superstar Tom Cruise's boat, Davis responded, "Who says boat scrubbing isn't valuable? Somebody's got to make Tom's boat shine like the glowing Sol of Teegeeack, so to speak.
"Besides, as [Church of Scientology founder] L. Ron Hubbard used to say, a little hard work is good for the thetan, no matter what planet it came from," added Davis. "Umm ... I'm kind of paraphrasing but that's basically what he said."
A CAP News study of other religions backs up Davis' claim that the practice is not completely unusual. For instance, altar boys do not get paid by the Catholic Church, although they are sometimes asked to do menial tasks, such as come to the rectory in their bathing suits to wash the priest's car.
"Even though they do not get paid, they enjoy doing the work and communing with their priest, who in exchange will often amuse them while they're there," Pope Benedict XVI told the Grafenwoehr Newspaper of Bavaria last year, several months prior to revealing his hearing problem.
And Unitarian Universalism requires some members to spend up to 20 unpaid hours a week searching for truth and meaning while not actually believing anything in particular. "And believe me, that can be exhausting," said one Unitarian Universalist who declined to be named, out of fear that fellow church members might corner him and force him to listen to their personal spiritual philosophies.
Scientology practices also have some similarities to those of the Walt Disney Corporation, which has been alleged to keep its teenage Disney Channel stars locked in boxes at the studio during their rare off hours. "Say what you want about Scientology, but we're no Disney," said Davis.
Still, no other religion appears to have the equivalent of the Scientology "reeducation camps," where the church will sometimes send Scientologists who "fail to live up to their religious duties" for years at a time doing menial tasks, such as customizing Cruise's 400,000-square-foot garden shed, cleaning out the latrines of John Travolta's private jets and carrying Kirstie Alley around for hours in a custom-made palanquin.
"Hey, it could be worse," said Davis. "We could make them watch Battlefield Earth!
"Umm ... just a little Scientology humor there," he added.
Meanwhile, Davis pointed out that the church's internship program has provided great opportunities for its members. "It's hard work, sure, but our members who go through it will often tell you when they finish it, they're like a different person.
"For instance, did you know [Cruise's wife] Katie Holmes was one of our interns?" said Davis proudly.
Davis then offered to explain the program to the CAP News reporter in more detail, if he would be willing to step inside the local Scientology center to take a quiz and watch a brief film.
"Don't worry, it's not Battlefield Earth!," Davis clarified. "I said it would be brief."