The Church of Scientology tried to bargain with two of its most high-profile antagonists after defeating them in civil court recently by offering to wipe out a $42,000 debt in exchange for information about other church critics.
Former church staffers Claire and Marc Headley battled Scientology in state and federal court in California for 3-1/2 years over unfair labor practices, forced abortion and human trafficking claims. They lost on appeal July 24.
The couple - Claire is 37, Marc, 39 - walked away with a court order to pay the church $42,852.06 for its costs - a daunting sum for the small business owners who have two children and a third on the way.
But within a week, the church proposed waiving the fee if the Headleys would agree to:
- Tell the church about their interactions with high-profile defector Marty Rathbun and others who have criticized the church.
- Tell the church about their contacts with the media.
- Turn over to the church all rights to Marc Headley's self-published memoir, Blown for Good, which recounts abuses and punishments he says he endured and witnessed during his 15 years working for the church in California.
- Never again engage in anti-Scientology activity or criticize the church or any Scientologists.
Asked about the proposal, church spokeswoman Karin Pouw said: "The church makes every effort to participate in good-faith confidential settlement negotiations. The church has no desire to engage in long-term litigation with Mr. Headley concerning his defamatory publication and his continuing harassment of the church and its parishioners."
It was the second time this year the church has used its legal muscle to try to silence a high-profile critic. It worked in the case of former top executive Debbie Cook, who was sued by Scientology after she publicly criticized church management in January.
After a day of damaging testimony, church lawyers negotiated a settlement that requires her to never speak about Scientology again. Cook later moved to a Caribbean island.
The Headleys were stunned the church would try it on them.
They had endured a bitter and protracted court fight. Marc Headley had alleged church abuses in his book and on the Internet. The church had hired private investigators to follow and harass the couple.
Why would they help the church?
"I literally thought someone was playing a joke on us," Marc Headley said. " That they would consider that I would consider going to work for them as a spy, to me it was just unbelievable."
Added his wife: "I'm like, over my dead body. ... I'll sell my child's backpack if have to."
The Headleys asked the church to allow them to pay the fee in four monthly installments, but the church said no, they said. The church received no such proposal, Pouw said.
The couple drew down their savings and their children's savings. They sold their 2007 Ford cargo van. They sold electronics, tools and materials Marc Headley used in his business. And they borrowed $6,000. They sent the church a cashier's check for the full amount.
"I did everything to scrape together - down to the last six cents - that money," Claire Headley said. "It took me four days full time doing nothing else to get it all in one place."
On Thursday, the church shocked them again.
It mentioned them in a letter to NBC and posted on a church website. The letter challenged Vanity Fair's report this week that Scientology auditioned actresses in 2004 to date the church's most famous believer, Tom Cruise. Marc Headley was among the magazine's sources.
The church said it received the Headleys' check and posed a question: Did Vanity Fair pay Headley for participating in the story?
Ridiculous, the Headleys said.
"I don't know how these things work, but I can't imagine as a source making $42,000 for that article," Marc Headley said.
Vanity Fair said it did not pay Headley. Spokeswoman Beth Kseniak said, "Vanity Fair has never paid sources and never would."
The church said it asked the question because it had thought it curious that the Headleys' check arrived days before the magazine published its story.
The attempt to silence the Headleys is far from unusual for Scientology, said two former church officers who made similar offers while on the inside.
Rathbun, the defector the church identified in its offer, and Mike Rinder, who worked closely with Rathbun for years on several sensitive church matters, said it was done often, but not like this.
"If you're going to resort to that kind of activity, you don't put it in writing," said Rinder, who left the church in 2007.
"It tells you how scared they are and how worried they are about Marty and the media," he said.
Rathbun said he thought it a strange tactic because Marc Headley likely could provide little valuable information about him. "Marc and I really don't hang out," said Rathbun, who left the church in 2004, but remains a believer. Headley is not.
The practice of paying for information and for guarantees of silence was established by the church's leader David Miscavige in the early 1980s, when the church faced a raft of legal fights, Rathbun said.
Few people have challenged the church with the rigor of the Headleys.
They joined Scientology's religious order, the Sea Org, as teenagers in the early 1990s. The church assigned them to work at its compound 90 miles southeast of Los Angeles, where they met and married.
They stayed in that isolated environment until their early 30s when they grew weary of grinding work weeks and conditions they described as mentally and physically abusive.
Claire Headley had two abortions. The church requires Sea Org members with children to leave the order. She contended in her lawsuit her supervisors coerced her to terminate the pregnancies so she could remain in good standing and continue working. The church denied that, saying the abortions were her choice.
The Headleys ran away in January 2005.
They started new lives without high school diplomas, job references or credit histories. Marc started repairing computers. Claire got a job in a pizza shop.
After two years, they had enough cash to start an audio-visual design and installation firm in Los Angeles. Marc Headley also started posting criticisms of the church on the Internet.
In September 2008, he traveled to Hamburg, Germany, to speak about his experiences in Scientology to European government officials attending a conference.
In January 2009, the Headleys both sued the church, initially alleging wage and hour and other labor law violations. They later added claims of human trafficking and forced abortion.
In November 2009, Marc Headley published Blown For Good, which has sold nearly 10,000 copies, he said.
The couple also appeared in investigative reports about the church in the Tampa Bay Times and other media