Film-maker Paul Haggis quits Scientology over gay rights stance

Oscar-winning writer of Crash and Million Dollar Baby denounces tolerance of 'gay-bashing' after 35 years in church

The Guardian, UK/October 26, 2009

The Church of Scientology lost one of its most high-profile members when the Hollywood film-maker Paul Haggis quit the organisation in protest at its stance on same-sex marriages. In an explosive letter of resignation, Haggis claimed he could no longer "be a member of an organisation where gay-bashing is tolerated".

Haggis, the writer of the Oscar-winning dramas Crash and Million Dollar Baby, had earlier called on spokesman Tommy Davis to denounce statements made by the church's San Diego branch in support of Proposition 8, the controversial legislation that bans gay marriage in California. "The church's refusal to denounce the actions of these bigots, hypocrites and homophobes is cowardly," Haggis wrote in a letter addressed to Davis.

"Silence is consent, Tommy. I refuse to consent." The resignation was later published on a blog by the former Scientology official, Marty Rathbun.

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.

However, Haggis's outburst looks likely to be seized on by critics as proof of the organisation's alleged heavy-handed tactics and lack of transparency. The film-maker goes on to list the other grievances that prompted his departure, accusing officials of waging a smear campaign against former members by leaking details of their private life to the press. For good measure, Haggis also suggests that Davis was lying when he publicly insisted that the organisation did not practise the policy of "disconnection", whereby followers are encouraged to break off all contact with those who have criticised the church.

"I was shocked," wrote Haggis. "We all know this policy exists. I didn't have to search for verification - I didn't even have to look any further than my own home. You might recall that my wife was ordered to disconnect from her own parents … although it caused her terrible personal pain, my wife broke off all contact with them."

Haggis was a member of the Church of Scientology for 35 years. During that time, he wrote, "I saw the organisation - with all its warts, growing pains and problems - as an underdog. And I've 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 your name to be allied with the worst impulses of the Christian Right ... 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."

His letter ends: "I am only ashamed I waited this many months to act. I hereby resign my membership of the Church of Scientology."

The Church of Scientology has yet to publicly respond to Haggis's allegations. In the meantime, the Oscar-winner has hopped from one illustrious list to another. The roll-call of celebrities who have first joined and then abandoned the organisation reportedly includes Nicole Kidman, Van Morrison and comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

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