Former Scientology Member Shares Shocking Story of Forced 'Religious Arbitration'

Valerie Haney's attempt to escape the abusive institution involved having to ask famous scientologists like Tom Cruise and Elisabeth Moss to arbitrate.

Jezebel/March 28, 2023

By Audra Heinrichs

In November 2016, Valerie Haney fled the Church of Scientology in a scene that reads as if it was ripped straight from the big screen: The longtime member and former casting director for the controversial institution’s internal films climbed into the trunk of a Los Angeles-bound car belonging to an actor during a shoot at “Gold Base,” the Church’s international headquarters, and never looked back.

In a new interview, Haney told Rolling Stone the story of the aftermath of her escape from the Church of Scientology, her failed attempts at taking legal action, and the forthcoming arbitration she claims is being forced upon her. Haney explains she was born into a family of practicing Scientologists and raised in Scientology’s Cadet Org, otherwise known as the children’s branch of Sea Org, the arm of the Church made infamous for alleged slave labor. From ages 6 to 12, she claims she faced bizarre procedures like “bullbaiting,” or, as described by RS: “a common Scientology procedure that requires a subject to sit without flinching while insults are being hurled at them by a ‘coach.’” Some examples alleged by Haney include being told, “I am going to fuck you and your mother” and “You are going to suck my dick.”

When Haney proceeded from Cadet Org to Sea Org, she says she soon became noticed by Shelly Miscavige, the wife of the institution’s de facto leader and the woman who hasn’t been seen in public since 2007 (Scientology spokespeople and the LAPD have disputed that she’s missing, despite claims from former members like Leah Remini). At one time, Haney claims, she was so in favor with the Miscaviges that she spent “24 hours a day for three years” as their steward, charged with serving their meals and performing tasks in their private quarters.

Haney was later tasked with serving as the casting director for the institution’s internal video productions. Years later, while appearing on an episode of the Remini-helmed A&E series, Scientology and the Aftermath, Haney recalled working with actors who weren’t practicing Scientologists and concluding that her way out of the institution would be through one of them. Ultimately, she fled in the trunk of an unsuspecting actor on what would be her final production.

In the aftermath, she says she agreed to participate in the typical departure process at Scientology headquarters in Los Angeles per her father’s wishes. The procedure took a full three months, during which she was placed under surveillance and banned from attending her grandmother’s funeral. After Haney decided to work with Remini on the series, she alleges that the institution harassed her in a myriad of ways, including an online campaign that deemed her “a paid liar.” Her brother and sister-in-law, both practicing Scientologists, also took part in disparaging videos.

By June 2019, three years after leaving the institution, Haney filed a lawsuit against Scientology alleging kidnapping, stalking, and libel. However, due to the exit agreement she had signed, a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge ruled that she would have no choice but to undergo the church’s internal arbitration first in order for her suit to proceed. “Scientology literally abused me my entire life, I finally escaped, and I’m trying to use the U.S. judicial system, and now they’re going, oh no, you need to go back and do everything that your abuser says,” Haney said. She and her attorneys spent two years fighting the decision to no avail.

Then, Haney’s situation became all the more bizarre: A crucial component to Scientology’s arbitration proceedings is nominating an active member as an arbitrator. First, Haney nominated actor Elisabeth Moss, star of Mad Men and The Handmaids Tale. “I thought, OK, maybe she could sympathize with my situation,” Haney told RS. Though the pair had never met, Haney assumed she’d have more empathy for her than the average member given her role in The Handmaids Tale. “Maybe she has some decency as a human being and maybe she could see that my human rights were being violated. And she was a person I knew was in good standing.”

But Moss was unavailable to arbitrate, so Haney nominated another actor in good standing with the institution: Tom Cruise. “I knew him,” Haney said, noting that she’d become acquainted with him whilst serving the Miscaviges. “He liked me. We were on a first-name basis. I knew Penelope [Cruz], and I knew Katie [Holmes]. I served Tom his meals.”

Cruise, too, was unavailable, per instruction from the church. Finally, she nominated Shelly Miscavige, considering their previous relationship, which led to Haney being accused of purposely choosing people who were unavailable. In response, she says, she nominated 15 people, including celebrity Scientologists Jenna Elfman, Giovanni Ribisi, and Rebecca Minkoff.

Haney’s story brings crucial context to other criminal and civil cases involving Scientology that have made headlines lately—namely, the sexual assault allegations against Scientologist and That 70's Show actor Danny Masterson, who was granted a retrial in Los Angeles following a hung jury in his 2022 rape trial. This week—as Remini looked on in support—Jane Doe 1 told Judge Charlaine Olmedo that she was subject to “intimidation and harassment” throughout the first proceedings. Doe 1, as you might remember, alleged that after Masterson raped her, she was sent to speak with a Scientology ethics officer and “forced to make peace” with Masterson and undergo weeks of “ethics programs.”

The three accusers—all former Scientologists—have claimed the actor stalked them and that church members had gone so far as to poison one accuser’s dogs after they reported Masterson had assaulted them. The new proceedings are set for April 11. It’s worth noting that Doe 1, alongside fellow accusers, has also filed a civil suit against the church for harassment. A spokesperson for the Church of Scientology did not respond to Jezebel’s request for comment.

Meanwhile, Haney awaits her arbitration with the institution. She claims she has yet to be informed when and where it will occur or who will serve as arbitrators. “It’s the worst thing you could probably have a victim do,” Haney said. “Someone who has been abused her entire life, to go back into the abusive environment with the abusers. It’s appalling. And absolutely disgusting. It’s so crazy.IR

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