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Ex-Scientologist Haggis Speaks Out on "Cult"

Paul Haggis is honored at a event benefiting Save The Children and Artists For Peace and Justice, January 13, 2011 in Beverly Hills. Jason Merritt/Getty Images

One of the Church of Scientology's most notable members - the Oscar- and Emmy-winning writer-director Paul Haggis ("Million Dollar Baby," Crash") - resigned from the church in 2009 out of anger over the church's implicit support of California's Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage.

Now, in a lengthy New Yorker investigative article by Lawrence Wright, Haggis speaks publicly for the first time about the reasons behind his defection, including charges that the church - which he now describes as a "cult" - engages in practices that exploit minors.

Haggis, 57, had joined the church, founded on the teachings of science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, more than three decades ago. He thought of it less a practicing faith than as an "applied philosophy" towards enlightenment. Haggis ultimately rose to what was at the time the highest practicing level (Operating Thetan VII).

Haggis, who has worked as a fundraiser for Haitian quake victims and other causes, told Wright that his participation in the Church 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. And the church has often made public statements supporting religious freedom and human rights.

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 a resignation letter he penned 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 - information Scientologists typically ignore.

In the New Yorker article, Haggis describes some of the activities that he uncovered - and which the FBI is also investigating - including the recruitment of children into a group called Sea Org. They serve basically as indentured servants - including maintaining the church's properties - for a small stipend, after having signed a contract for up to a billion years of service. If they marry, they cannot raise children while in Sea Org.

Haggis says children in the order receive no formal education, and if they try to leave Sea Org they are hit with a massive bill - as much as a $100,000 - and are left without the resources needed to function in society.

"I was in a cult for thirty-four years," Haggis said. "Everyone else could see it. I don't know why I couldn't."

The church claims it adheres to "all child labor laws," says Wright.


For more visit The New Yorker website.

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