Tom Cruise and John Travolta are the highest-profile members of the Church of Scientology. Oscar-winning, writer-director Paul Haggis was a step below them. But now he is a former Scientologist, resigning his membership because of the Church's stance on gay marriage.
Speaking publicly for the first time about this, Haggis told the New Yorker he resigned from the Church in 2009 because of its support for California's Proposition 8 which banned same-sex marriage.
"I was in a cult for thirty-four years," Haggis said. "Everyone else could see it. I don't know why I couldn't."
Haggis said he thought of it more as an "applied philosophy" towards enlightenment rather than a practicing faith. Haggis ultimately rose to what was at the time the highest practicing level -- Operating Thetan VII.
Haggis said his participation in the organization satisfied a desire to stand with the marginalized and oppressed. "I have a perverse pride in being a member of a group that people shun," he said. He approved of the Church's many public statements supporting religious freedom and human rights.
But then the Prop 8 battle was launched. The New Yorker writes:
But his participation ended when the Church tacitly backed the 2008 California ballot initiative that revoked homosexuals' right to marry and refused to take a stand against the discriminatory measure. He also felt church spokespeople had lied to the media when discussing church policies, such as denying the practice of disconnection (in which members cut off all contact with family or others who are considered threats to the church's teachings).
After his resignation letter was circulated to other Scientologists, Haggis began searching out information about the church, including news of lawsuits or charges filed against it by former members.
In the New Yorker article, Haggis described some of the activities that he uncovered, including the recruitment of children into a group called Sea Org. They serve basically as indentured servants, including maintaining the church's properties. Haggis said the children receive very little pay and no formal education.
And forget about leaving. If they try to break the contract they signed, which calls for them to be in the employ of the Church for up to a billion years, they get hit with a massive bill of upwards of $100,000.
The FBI is investigating whether the Church is breaking child labor laws. The church denies those accusations.