Oscar-winning Paul Haggis quits the Church of Scientology over gay rights stance
After 35 years of membership, Oscar-winning Hollywood director Paul Haggis has publicly resigned from the Church of Scientology, protesting against its 'gay-bashing.'
"Despite all the church's words about promoting freedom and human rights, its name is now in the public record alongside those who promote bigotry, intolerance, homophobia and fear." says Haggis in a letter addressed to the church's official spokesman Tommy Davis, accusing him of not speaking out against the Church of Scientology of San Diego, branch that publicly sponsors Proposition 8 - legislation that succeeded in taking away the civil rights of gay and lesbian citizens of California. "The church's refusal to denounce the actions of these bigots, hypocrites and homophobes is cowardly." Haggis also accused the church of making public the private confessionals of members who later elected to leave. He suggests in the letter that could happen to him.
The Church of Scientology was founded in 1952 by the pulp novelist L Ron Hubbard. It is a system of beliefs that promises members a form of "spiritual rehabilitation" through a set of counselling sessions known as "auditing". Scientology is recognised as a tax-exempt religion in the US where it has attracted a list of celebrity devotees that includes Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Lisa-Marie Presley.
Paul Haggis' open letter:
As you know, for ten months now I have been writing to ask you to make a public statement denouncing the actions of the Church of Scientology of San Diego. Their public sponsorship of Proposition 8, a hate-filled legislation that succeeded in taking away the civil rights of gay and lesbian citizens of California – rights that were granted them by the Supreme Court of our state – shames us.
I called and wrote and implored you, as the official spokesman of the church, to condemn their actions. I told you I could not, in good conscience, be a member of an organization where gay-bashing was tolerated.
In that first conversation, back at the end of October of last year, you told me you were horrified, that you would get to the bottom of it and “heads would roll.” You promised action. Ten months passed. No action was forthcoming. The best you offered was a weak and carefully worded press release, which praised the church’s human rights record and took no responsibility. Even that, you decided not to publish.
The church’s refusal to denounce the actions of these bigots, hypocrites and homophobes is cowardly. I can think of no other word. Silence is consent, Tommy. I refuse to consent.
I joined the Church of Scientology thirty-five years ago. During my twenties and early thirties I studied and received a great deal of counseling. While I have not been an active member for many years, I found much of what I learned to be very helpful, and I still apply it in my daily life. I have never pretended to be the best Scientologist, but I openly and vigorously defended the church whenever it was criticized, as I railed against the kind of intolerance that I believed was directed against it. I had my disagreements, but I dealt with them internally. I saw the organization – with all its warts, growing pains and problems – as an underdog. And I have always had a thing for underdogs.
But I reached a point several weeks ago where I no longer knew what to think. You had allowed our name to be allied with the worst elements of the Christian Right. In order to contain a potential “PR flap” you allowed our sponsorship of Proposition 8 to stand. Despite all the church’s words about promoting freedom and human rights, its name is now in the public record alongside those who promote bigotry and intolerance, homophobia and fear.
The fact that the Mormon Church drew all the fire, that no one noticed, doesn’t matter. I noticed. And I felt sick. I wondered how the church could, in good conscience, through the action of a few and then the inaction of its leadership, support a bill that strips a group of its civil rights.
This was my state of mind when I was online doing research and chanced upon an interview clip with you on CNN. The interview lasted maybe ten minutes – it was just you and the newscaster. And in it I saw you deny the church’s policy of disconnection. You said straight-out there was no such policy, that it did not exist.
I was shocked. We all know this policy exists. I didn’t have to search for verification – I didn’t have to look any further than my own home.
You might recall that my wife was ordered to disconnect from her parents because of something absolutely trivial they supposedly did twenty-five years ago when they resigned from the church. This is a lovely retired couple, never said a negative word about Scientology to me or anyone else I know – hardly raving maniacs or enemies of the church. In fact it was they who introduced my wife to Scientology.
Although it caused her terrible personal pain, my wife broke off all contact with them. I refused to do so. I’ve never been good at following orders, especially when I find them morally reprehensible.
For a year and a half, despite her protestations, my wife did not speak to her parents and they had limited access to their grandchild. It was a terrible time.
That’s not ancient history, Tommy. It was a year ago.
And you could laugh at the question as if it was a joke? You could publicly state that it doesn’t exist?
To see you lie so easily, I am afraid I had to ask myself: what else are you lying about?
And that is when I read the recent articles in the St. Petersburg Times. They left me dumbstruck and horrified.
These were not the claims made by “outsiders” looking to dig up dirt against us. These accusations were made by top international executives who had devoted most of their lives to the church. Say what you will about them now, these were staunch defenders of the church, including Mike Rinder, the church’s official spokesman for 20 years!
Tommy, if only a fraction of these accusations are true, we are talking about serious, indefensible human and civil rights violations. It is still hard for me to believe. But given how many former top-level executives have said these things are true, it is hard to believe it is all lies.
And when I pictured you assuring me that it is all lies, that this is nothing but an unfounded and vicious attack by a group of disgruntled employees, I am afraid that I saw the same face that looked in the camera and denied the policy of disconnection. I heard the same voice that professed outrage at our support of Proposition 8, who promised to correct it, and did nothing.
I carefully read all of your rebuttals, I watched every video where you presented the church’s position, I listened to all your arguments – ever word. I wish I could tell you that they rang true. But they didn’t.
I was left feeling outraged, and frankly, more than a little stupid.
And though it may seem small by comparison, I was truly disturbed to see you provide private details from confessionals to the press in an attempt to embarrass and discredit the executives who spoke out. A priest would go to jail before revealing secrets from the confessional, no matter what the cost to himself or his church. That’s the kind of integrity I thought we had, but obviously the standard in this church is far lower – the public relations representative can reveal secrets to the press if the management feels justified. You even felt free to publish secrets from the confessional in Freedom Magazine – you just stopped short of labeling them as such, probably because you knew Scientologists would be horrified, knowing you so easily broke a sacred vow of trust with your parishioners.
How dare you use private information in order to label someone an “adulteress?” You took Amy Scobee’s most intimate admissions about her sexual life and passed them onto the press and then smeared them all over the pages your newsletter! I do not know the woman, but no matter what she said or did, this is the woman who joined the Sea Org at 16! She ran the entire celebrity center network, and was a loyal senior executive of the church for what, 20 years? You want to rebut her accusations, do it, and do it in the strongest terms possible – but that kind of character assassination is unconscionable.
So, I am now painfully aware that you might see this an attack and just as easily use things I have confessed over the years to smear my name. Well, luckily I have never held myself up to be anyone’s role model.
The great majority of Scientologists I know are good people who are genuinely interested in improving conditions on this planet and helping others. I have to believe that if they knew what I now know, they too would be horrified. But I know how easy it was for me to defend our organization and dismiss our critics, without ever truly looking at what was being said; I did it for thirty-five years. And so, after writing this letter, I am fully aware that some of my friends may choose to no longer associate with me, or in some cases work with me. I will always take their calls, as I always took yours. However, I have finally come to the conclusion that I can no longer be a part of this group. Frankly, I had to look no further than your refusal to denounce the church’s anti-gay stance, and the indefensible actions, and inactions, of those who condone this behavior within the organization. I am only ashamed that I waited this many months to act. I hereby resign my membership in the Church of Scientology.
Ps. I’ve attached our email correspondence. At some point it became evident that you did not value my concerns about the church’s tacit support of an amendment that violated the civil rights of so many of our citizens. Perhaps if you had done a little more research on me, the church’s senior management wouldn’t have dismissed those concerns quite so cavalierly. While I am no great believer in resumes and awards, this is what you would have discovered:
* Founder, Artists For Peace and Justice, - sponsoring schools, an orphanage and a children’s hospital in the slums of Haiti * Co-Founder, BrandAid Foundation and BrandAid Project - marketing the work of artisans from the poorest countries in the world, * Board Member, Office of The Americas - supporting peace and justice initiatives around the world * Board Member, Center For The Advancement of Non-Violence * Member and active supporter, Amnesty International * Member, President’s Council, Defenders of Wildlife * Member and fundraiser, Environment California and CalPirg * Member and Award Recipient, American Civil Liberties Union * Member and supporter, Death Penalty Focus * Member and supporter, Equality For All * Fundraiser, NPH (Our Little Brothers) – for the children of the slums of Haiti * Member, Citizens Commission on Human Rights * Patron with Honors, IAS And formerly: * Trustee, Religious Freedom Trust * Board Member and fundraiser, Hollywood Education and Literacy Project * Board Member and fundraiser, For The Arts, For Every Child – supporting art and music in public schools * Board Member and fundraiser, The Christic Institute - supporting Human Rights in Central America * Founding Board Member, Earth Communication Office * Working Board Member, Environmental Media Association * Fundraiser, El Rescate – Human Rights for El Salvador * Fundraiser, PAVA – Aid and Human Rights in Guatemala
Awards for outspoken support of Civil and Human Rights:
* Valentine Davies Award – Writers Guild of America “for bringing honor and dignity to writers everywhere” *Bill of Rights Award – American Civil Liberties Union *Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award – Leadership Conference on Civil Rights *Peace & Justice Award – Office of the Americas, presented by Daniel Ellsberg *Signis Award, Venezia, World Catholic Association *ALMA Award – National Council of Latino Civil Rights *Ethel Levitt Award for Humanitarian Service – Levitt & Quinn *Prism Award – Entertainment Industries Council *Humanitas Prize (2) – Humanitas *Legacy Award, for Artistic and Humanitarian Achievement *Environmental Media Award – EMA *EMA Green Seal Award – EMA *Image Award – NAACP *Creative Integrity Award – Multicultural Motion Picture Association *EDGE Awards (2) – Entertainment Industries Council *Artistic Freedom Award – City of West Hollywood *Catholics in Media Award – Catholics in Media Associates
And many dozens of fundraisers and salons at our home on behalf of Human and Civil Rights, the Environment, the Peace Movement, Education, Justice and Equality.