Oscar-winning director: why I'm leaving Scientology

Haggis fires parting shot at 'hate-filled and bigoted' church

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.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living