Here are 10 people who escaped Scientology — and revealed its bizarre secrets
The Church of Scientology, which the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard founded in 1952, has experienced more than its share of criticism along the way. But criticism has escalated in recent years, from Alex Gibney’s documentary Going Clear (aired on HBO earlier this year) to books by ex-members such as Jenna Miscavige Hill’s Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape in 2013 and Blown for Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology in 2009. All of these works paint a disturbing picture of the organization, which has been accused of everything from forced child labor to coercive mind control to breaking up families.
The Church of Scientology does not take criticism lightly: Hubbard (who died in 1986 at the age of 74) instituted a policy called “attack the attacker,” which means that those who criticize Scientology are to be defamed, maligned and harassed as vehemently as possible. Journalist Paulette Cooper (who wrote The Scandal of Scientology back in 1971) has been the target of numerous Scientology lawsuits. The Church of Scientology is so litigious that HBO consulted hundreds of attorneys when it was getting ready to air Going Clear. And before the documentary aired, the Church of Scientology resorted to its attack-the-attacker policy with a series of videos smearing ex-Scientologists interviewed in the film.
But with so many ex-members coming out against the Church of Scientology, it is becoming harder for the Church to bully opponents into silence. Below are 10 well-known ex-Scientologists who have become blistering critics of the cult since their departures.
1. Paul Haggis
Screenwriter/director Paul Haggis, who is known for his work in Million Dollar Baby, Crash and other Hollywood films, spent more than half his life in the Church of Scientology. But in 2009, Haggis (who is now 62), left the cult after 35 years because of its homophobic ways. That year, the cult’s San Diego branch came out in support of Proposition 8, the ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage in California. Haggis, who has two lesbian daughters, refused to keep quiet. In an open letter to Scientologist official Tommy Davis explaining his reasons for leaving, Haggis asserted that he could not be a part of a group that would “support a bill that strips a group of its civil rights.” Haggis was also quite critical of “disconnection,” a practice in which Scientologists are encouraged to discontinue all contact with relatives and friends who are deemed hostile to the cult.
2. Jenna Miscavige Hill
Beyond Belief author Jenna Miscavige Hill, who is the niece of Church of Scientology head David Miscavige, was raised a Scientologist and was once a member of Sea Org, considered the most elite group within Scientology. But after leaving the cult at 21, Hill became one of the cult’s most outspoken critics. Hill has described her Scientology upbringing as both abusive and controlling. Scientology children, according to Hill, were required to work 14-hour days seven days a week, and she was discouraged from associating with children who weren’t part of Sea Org. At the age of seven, Hill says, she was forced to sign a pledge that she would serve Sea Org “for the next billion years.” (Scientologists believe that one obtains a new body after death, although they reject the Hindu and Buddhist views of reincarnation.)
3. Jason Beghe
Given how many openly gay people there are in the entertainment industry, it is ironic that the homophobic Church of Scientology goes out of its way to recruit actors and musicians. Actor Jason Beghe, a former Scientologist who is now one of the Church’s most scathing critics, said he began to question Scientology after a member implied that a car accident he suffered was the result of his friendship with a gay man. But that incident was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to Beghe’s criticisms of Scientology. Beghe, who began taking Scientology courses in 1994 and was once described by David Miscavige as “the poster boy for Scientology,” left the cult in 2007, and from 2008 on, he has been asserting that Scientology harms members psychologically by convincing them their lives are meaningless without it. Scientology, Beghe has stressed, is great at breaking up families. He bluntly described how “dirty and underhanded” the Church of Scientology can be when, according to journalist Tony Ortega, he asserted, “They say they’re not a turn-the-other-cheek religion. No, they’re a knock-you-down-and-kick-you-
4. Leah Remini
When actress Leah Remini, now 45, publicly announced her departure from the Church of Scientology in July 2013, she had much to say about how controlling the cult could be. Remini, who was a Scientologist for 30 years, stressed that no one was going to tell her who she could and could not associate with, and she has been critical of the policy of disconnection as well as Scientologists’ practice of labeling critics “suppressive persons” (a term L. Ron Hubbard used to defame anyone he considered hostile to the goals of Scientology).
5. Spanky Taylor
When entertainment industry veteran Sylvia “Spanky” Taylor was part of Scientology’s Sea Org, one of her duties was recruiting celebrities. Taylor was a close friend of actor John Travolta, one of Hollywood’s most famous Scientologists, in the 1970s, and she recruited Priscilla Presley. But Taylor saw how nasty the Church could be when she was sent to the Rehabilitation Project Force, a prison-like place where Sea Org members are sent for “rehabilitation.” In Going Clear, Taylor recalls that at the RPF, she was sleep-deprived and was forced to perform “arduous physical labor” while pregnant. After giving birth, Taylor says, she was not allowed to see her baby daughter (at the RPF, children are considered a distraction). Taylor has alleged that when she was suffering the abusive practices of the RPF, Travolta avoided contact with her despite the fact that they had been close friends in the past. Taylor left Scientology in 1987, but continued to work in the entertainment industry.
6. Sara Goldberg
Florida resident Sara Goldberg, one of the ex-Scientologists interviewed in Going Clear, spent 37 years with the Church of Scientology and became a high-ranking member. But her relationship with the organization went sour when she was given an ultimatum: either disown her son, Nick Lister, or risk being labeled a “suppressive person.” Goldberg had raised Lister and her daughter Ashley Lister Epstein as Scientologists, but when Lister associated with Scientology critic Matt Argall, he was deemed a “suppressive person.” Goldberg refused to “disconnect” from Lister, and in 2013, she was declared a suppressive person. Epstein “disconnected” from her own mother rather than go against the Church.
7. Tom DeVocht
As a high-ranking Sea Org executive, Tom DeVocht, another interviewee in Going Clear, had close contact with David Miscavige. But since leaving the Church of Scientology in 2005 and being declared a suppressive person, he has been one of the cult’s most vehement critics. DeVocht alleges that his sister Nancy, a Sea Org member, was sent to Rehabilitation Project Force for seeing him after he left the Church. She has since disconnected from him at the Church’s insistence. DeVocht alleges that he has been under constant surveillance by the cult since leaving and has described Miscavige as a tyrant.
8. Diana Canova
Actress Diana Canova was once heavily involved in the Church of Scientology, and for years, she was afraid to leave the Church because of her fear of retaliation. Eventually, Canova left because she “was so fed up with being afraid.” Canova felt that she was being financially exploited by their expensive “auditing” sessions. The Church of Scientology, which is staunchly opposed to conventional psychiatry and psychology, has a bogus form of “spiritual counseling” it calls auditing—and it’s not cheap.
9. Larry Anderson
At one time, actor Larry Anderson was among Hollywood’s most vocal proponents of Scientology. Anderson spent 33 years in the Church of Scientology and was featured in the cult’s promotional film, Orientation, in 1996. But Anderson left the Church of Scientology in 2009 after becoming increasingly critical of the high cost of auditing sessions. Anderson, who has described Scientologists as “sheeple” and auditing as a major rip-off, has asked the organization to return $150,000 of his money.
10. Marc Headley
As a prominent member of Sea Org, Marc Headley worked closely with one of Hollywood’s most famous Scientologists, actor Tom Cruise. But in 2005, Headley left because he feared being sent to the Rehabilitation Project Force. In 2009, his book Blown for Good: Behind the Iron Curtain of Scientology was published. Headley was declared a suppressive person and members of his family who were still active in the cult were ordered to disconnect from him.