HarperCollins, the New York publisher of Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape, has apparently decided to brave the fear of libel action in Canada that prevented Alfred A. Knopf from releasing another Scientology exposÃ©. Beyond Belief, by former church member Jenna Miscavige Hill, went on sale without fanfare in Canada Feb. 5 and topped the country's non-fiction bestseller list last week.
Meanwhile, Going Clear:Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, by Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright, has been withheld from publication in Canada and the U.K. while Knopf completes a legal review of its libel exposure.
Going Clear has stirred up a maelstrom of controversy while its author and Scientology officials battle it out in the media. The book was No. 5 on the New York Times bestseller list last week, while Beyond Belief made its debut at No. 4.
Knopf's decision not to publish in Canada means the book is unavailable on mainstream Canadian retail websites such as Chapters Indigo and Amazon.ca, although Canadians can easily purchase it from Amazon.com's U.S. book catalogue. Amazon refused comment on this apparent anomaly.
HarperCollins representatives in Toronto and New York also declined to comment about why the publisher ignored the possibility of libel action that prompted Knopf's withdrawal of Going Clear in Canada.
Knopf won't say when its legal review is likely to be completed and when Going Clear will be available in Canada.
There's not much about the inner workings of the Church of Scientology that isn't revealed in both books. Wright's historical perspective and analysis may be more detailed and ponderous than the personal accounts in the memoir by Miscavige Hill, the niece of current Scientology leader David Miscavige, but both writers condemn the church and its practices.
In response to the Star's request for comment on assertions made by Miscavige Hill, the Church of Scientology issued a statement denying the writer's accounts of childhood hardship and forced labour in the church's school system in California as "revisionist history... and tabloid tales... typical of apostate behaviour."
Her book is "neither a fair nor an accurate account of life inside the Church of Scientology, whether in Canada or anywhere else," Karin Pouw, Church of Scientology International's official spokesperson, wrote.
"(The school) Castile Canyon was nothing like Ms. Hill's portrayal, but rather a summer camp-like boarding school... about 10 minutes away from the church at which her parents worked," Pouw wrote.
Miscavige Hill alleges in her book that access to her parents, both church members, was limited to a few hours on weekends when she turned 6, and that at age 7 she was forced to sign a billion-year contract with the church and was saddled with gruelling manual labour, often in blazing heat, for up to 25 hours a week. Complaints were met with harsh discipline, she claims.
School work, she alleges, was often nothing more than repeating "everything we heard exactly as we heard it," and memorizing quotes by church founder L. Ron Hubbard.
At age 13, Miscavige Hill alleges she was told to "detail every single sexual experience, including masturbating, that I ever had," and to hand over all personal information, including hospital records.
Tom Cruise was considered a potential danger to the organization during his marriage to "non-committed" Nicole Kidman, and kept at a distance until she was out of his life, Miscavige Hill also claims.
"About Ms. Hill's emotional state, these are private and personal matters that the church will never discuss," Pouw wrote in her note to the Star. "To do so would be as unseemly and inappropriate as reviewing in the open press matters taken up by priests in a Catholic confessional.
"The allegations about famous parishioners are false and absurd. They are clearly an attempt to sell copies through the irresponsible repetition of salacious tabloid gossip about which Ms. Hill has no... personal knowledge."
As for the fear of libel action that has stalled the publication in Canada of Going Clear, Pouw claims the chill isn't being generated by the Church of Scientology, which has a reputation for being aggressively litigious.
"We have done nothing to stop publication of either book," Pouw wrote.
"We were never contacted by Ms. Hill, her publisher or her ghost writer at any time during the preparation of the manuscript. Had they done so we would have been able to correct the many documented factual errors contained in it.
"In the case of Mr. Wright, we offered from the day he began preparation of the book to provide factual information to improve the accuracy of his manuscript. He squandered this chance by refusing to participate in the fact-checking process in any meaningful way."
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