Scientology and Proposition 8: Debunking the Church Myth That It Stays Out of Politics

The Village Voice/February 15, 2011

One of the most interesting things about Lawrence Wright's recent article about Scientology in the New Yorker was the way he exposed the hypocrisies and outright lies of the wacky organization's top members and spokespeople.

But there's a key assertion peddled by Scientology that Wright didn't really debunk, and it's central to the story of the defection of director Paul Haggis, the main subject of the 25,000-word article.

Scientologists like Tommy Davis and Kirstie Alley claim that Haggis should not have expected the church to get involved in a political issue like California's Proposition 8, because Scientology never gets involved in such ballot issues.

Oh yeah? Well, let's take a look at Scientology's own publications to see if that's true.

Haggis left Scientology after 30 years for several reasons, but chief among them was the way the church handled California's controversial anti-gay-marriage referendum, Proposition 8, in 2008. Haggis was incensed that the San Diego chapter of Scientology had been listed among the proposition's supporters, and he complained about it to church spokesman Tommy Davis.

Davis responded that a lone member of the San Diego organization had been responsible for putting it on the list, and told Haggis that the man had been "handled" over the incident.

For Haggis, that wasn't good enough. The father of two lesbian daughters, Haggis wanted the church to make up for the gaffe by taking a public stand against Proposition 8.

According to Wright's article, Davis told Haggis that Scientology couldn't get involved. "Davis explained to Haggis that the church avoids taking overt political stands," Wright notes.

Kirstie Alley has echoed that statement. When Haggis first defected and made it public that he was angry over the church's failure to stand against Proposition 8, she took to Twitter to ridicule him.

"NOT true my church supported prop 8...My church advocates human and civil rights for ALL and does not take political stands," she tweeted.

Later, she added, "FOR THE RECORD..the Church of SCN. does NOT USE ANY $ TO support PROP 8 or NOT support PROP 8. PROPS R'nt US."

Alley and Davis were no doubt keeping in mind that religious organizations are supposed to keep out of politics as a condition of their tax-exempt status. (Scientology regained its tax-exempt status in 1993 after a legendary battle with the IRS, which had for decades considered Scientology a money-making business, not a religion. We've written about that battle before.)

But a little checking could have easily put the lie to what Davis and Alley were peddling.

In 2004, just four years before the Proposition 8 campaign, Scientology went all-out against another California initiative it didn't like, a proposal to increase taxes on the state's wealthiest people to help fund mental health care.

Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act, was a double nightmare for Scientology. Not only does the church consider the psychiatric profession to be a nefarious plot to enslave mankind, but the ballot initiative proposed to add a 1 percent state tax on the incomes of Californians who make $1 million or more. Scientology relies to a great degree, recent defectors say, on a small number of very wealthy members. Now, money would be taken from those rich folks and celebrities to go directly to the church's worst enemy!

Scientology made it very clear how it felt about the ballot initiative. Just take a look at all of the articles in Scientology's official magazine, Freedom, that blasted the initiative.

Scientology also produced a mass-mailing that contained a photo of a Columbine High School victim and the warning that the initiative would benefit the "same psycho-pharma racket whose proliferation of mind-altering, violence-inducing drugs on our schoolchildren in recent decades has fueled the explosion of school violence fatalities."

The Los Angeles Times reported at the time that Proposition 63's supporters called Scientology's newsletter a "blatant violation of campaign law." The paper noted that Scientology did not report the mailing to campaign finance authorities.

Scientology's mailing apparently had little effect. Proposition 63 passed with 53.8 percent of the votes in the 2004 election.

Just four years after that effort to discredit Prop 63, Alley and Davis claimed that Scientology couldn't even do so much as make a public statement against controversial Proposition 8. Funny how things change.

ALSO: Another great update at Marty Rathbun's excellent blog, "Moving On Up a Little Higher." In the wake of Wright's article, actor Jason Beghe told Marty he was contacted by a man who claimed to be a journalist wanting to hear details about Wright's investigation.

Rathbun, who only a few years ago was perhaps the second-most powerful person in all of Scientology, warns journalists that the man is actually a Scientology informer who was recruited by notorious church private eye Eugene Ingram, and that he poses as a journalist to get information from other reporters as they investigate Scientology.

Cloak and dagger! Keep your wits about you, news gatherers.

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