Paul Haggis, the Oscar-winning film-maker, has resigned from the Church of Scientology in an explosive letter that damns what he calls the organisation's "hate-filled" and "bigoted" opposition to gay marriage.
Haggis, who wrote Crash, Million Dollar Baby, and the last two James Bond films also registered his anger at the church's alleged "disconnection" policy, complaining that it encouraged his wife to live estranged from her parents.
His letter was sent to Scientology's official spokesman, Tommy Davis, in August. But it leaked to the Hollywood press this weekend, bringing further tricky publicity to the already-embattled organisation.
Mr Haggis, who had been a member for 35 years announced that he cannot "in good conscience" remain with "an organisation where gay bashing [is] tolerated" and which has "allowed [its] name to be allied with the worst elements of the Christian right".
The letter claimed that Scientologists in San Diego helped fund last year's campaign for Proposition 8, the ballot measure which outlawed same-sex unions in California.
It told how Mr Haggis, who also wrote the recent Terminator movie, became deeply concerned at the move, and persuaded Mr Davis to draw up a press release denouncing opposition to gay marriage. That release was never made public.
"You promised action. Ten months passed. No action," said Mr Haggis. "The church's refusal to denounce the actions of these bigots, hypocrites and homophobes is cowardly. I can think of no other word. Silence is consent, Tommy. I refuse to consent."
Although spokesmen have publicly denied that Scientology has a policy of "disconnecting" members who break rules, Mr Haggis further claimed that the parents of his wife, the actress Deborah Rennard, fell victim to that very practice.
"My wife was ordered to disconnect from her parents because of something absolutely trivial they supposedly did 25 years ago when they resigned from the church," he wrote. "It caused her terrible personal pain... For a year-and-a-half, [she] didn't speak to her parents and they had limited access to their grandchild. It was a terrible time."
The loss of Mr Haggis will be keenly felt by an organisation that deeply covets celebrity members from within the film community such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
Mr Davis yesterday confirmed to The Independent that the resignation letter, published on the blog of Hollywood Reporter columnist Roger Friedman, was genuine. However he said its contents were based on several false assumptions.
Although the Church of Scientology had been identified as a supporter of Proposition 8 on an internet site, it actually has no policy with regard to gay marriage, he said.
"We support civil rights for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, creed or race. As an organisation, we have members of every race, colour and sexual orientation. In fact we have many, many gay members."
With regard to "disconnection" Mr Davis re-iterated that the Church has no policy on the matter. However members are within their rights to privately refuse to communicate with friends or family members who insult their religious beliefs.
Either way, the affair comes at an awkward time for Scientology's public image. John Travolta and his wife, the actress Kelly Preston, were recently forced to deny reports that they were quitting the Church – founded by science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard – over its beliefs regarding psychology.
The couple's teenage son, Jett, collapsed and died earlier this year. His death was linked to severe autism he had suffered his entire life. However Scientologists take a sceptical view with regard to the existence of autism.
Last week, the Church was also placed in an embarrassing position by the British journalist Martin Bashir, who made a documentary about it for ABC's Nightline programme.
During that show, Mr Davis stormed out of an interview with Mr Bashir when asked if, as has been widely reported, Scientology teaches that Earth was first populated by an intergalactic emperor called Xenu, who buried his people in volcanoes 75 million years ago.
Haggis's letter: 'You promised action'
As you know, for 10 months now I have been writing to ask you to make a public statement denouncing the actions of the Church of Scientology of San Diego... The church's refusal to denounce the actions of these bigots, hypocrites and homophobes is cowardly. I can think of no other word. Silence is consent, Tommy. I refuse to consent...
I am now painfully aware that you might see this as an attack and just as easily use things I have confessed over the years to smear my name. Well, luckily I have never held myself up to be anyone's role model.
The great majority of Scientologists I know are good people who are genuinely interested in improving conditions on this planet and helping others. I have to believe that if they knew what I now know, they too would be horrified. But I know how easy it was for me to defend our organisation and dismiss our critics, without ever truly looking at what was being said; I did it for 35 years. And so, after writing this letter, I am fully aware that some of my friends may choose to no longer associate with me, or in some cases work with me. I will always take their calls, as I always took yours. However, I have finally come to the conclusion that I can no longer be a part of this group.Reuse content