Leah Remini says she couldn't stay silent when she saw the Church of Scientology going after former members, so she teamed up with A&E for a miniseries the actress says will shed more light on the church's dark side.
Now Remini says Scientology has her in its crosshairs, and she's suing her former church for $1.5 million in damages, saying the organization has worked to discredit, intimidate and silence her. Lawyers for Remini and Scientology have been locked in a legal battle and a New York magazine article, citing legal documents obtained by a Scientology insider, reports that the church tried pressuring A&E executives to stop the show from airing.
"My story pales in comparison to what happened to other people, how people are bullied into silence," she said. "We don't have $3 billion to protect ourselves, so what I have is I'm an actress, and I'm able to speak, and I'm able to give a voice to people who might not have an 'Ellen' to go on."
Scientology hasn't been subtle about taking public digs at Remini, calling the former "King of Queens" actress a has-been who is “as famous for being an ex-Scientologist as she is as an actress.”
“She needs to move on with her life instead of pathetically exploiting her former religion, her former friends and other celebrities for money and attention to appear relevant again," the Church of Scientology wrote in a statement.
The war of words between the actress and Scientology has been escalating since Remini left the church in 2013. Two years later, Remini released a book, "Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology," that detailed her time in the L. Ron Hubbard-founded religious organization.
Scientology has long been accused of pressuring recalcitrant members with threats, pitting family members against each other, and smearing former members to the press. Among the most high-profile defectors are director Paul Haggis, who left in 2009, and Jenna Miscavige Hill, the niece of Scientology leader David Miscavige. Jenna wrote a book in 2013 describing her experiences growing up as a member of the church.
TonyOrtega.org reports that the Comedy Central series "South Park" also famously mocked Scientology with a 2005 episode focusing on how Hubbard, a science fiction writer, invented a mythos for Scientology involving aliens and a galactic tyrant named Xenu. Scientology holds that Xenu is responsible for depression and other ills suffered by human beings.
Remini told The Hollywood Reporter that she was appalled at the way the church allegedly treated former rank-and-file members who didn't have the benefits of celebrity or a large, supportive network.
Remini explains her reasoning for speaking out, as seen on E! News:
I was watching high executives, former executives of the church leaving and speaking out about abuses and things that they've experienced while working for the church, and I saw how the church reacted. I felt I had a responsibility to say, 'I'm not going to allow you to bully these people who were very brave to come out and tell their stories.' And that's for executives, but there are just average parishioners like me who leave and speak out about what they've experienced, and they lose their family. And so the church goes after their family to shun their family, oftentimes. I'm very lucky that that didn't happen to me. My family chose me.