7 Biggest PR Nightmares in Scientology’s History

The recent news that Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise are divorcing has stirred up questions and accusations about Scientology that Scientologists would like to keep secret. Well, Scientologists would like to keep almost everything secret if they could and have employed the “attack the attacker” strategy created by the religion’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, against anyone who speaks out against them. But even with a PR team skilled at undermining critics’ claims and pressuring people to drop lawsuits and criminal cases, the Church of Scientology has had several big bumps in the road to their “Total Freedom.” These are the biggest PR nightmares the religion (or cult, depending on what side you’re on) has faced in its short history.

  1. Katie Holmes divorces Tom Cruise:

    The media is giving Scientology a lot of ink right now, and almost none of it is good. Katie Holmes, the woman who caused Cruise to jump on Oprah’s couch at the beginning of their relationship, filed for divorce on June 28, apparently blindsiding Cruise. Holmes thought she was being followed by the Church of Scientology since the time her relationship with Cruise had become strained, and it appears that one of her motives for the divorce was to keep their daughter Suri from growing up in Scientology. The settlement that they reached apparently dictates that Suri can’t attend any parties or churches related to Scientology. The high-profile case involving one of the most well-known Scientologists has the potential to shed light on many of Scientology’s secrets, experts say. It’s yet to be seen how the Church handles it, besides helping Cruise reach a divorce settlement at record speeds.

  2. South Park tells the truth:

    People may not turn to the satirical cartoon on Comedy Central for their news, per se, but this episode certainly caught some people’s attention … not least of all, the attention of the Scientologists. The 2005 episode, called “Trapped in the Closet,” pointed out the monetary nature of the religion, some of the more unusual beliefs, and the rumor that many of the members are closeted homosexuals, using Cruise and John Travolta as specific examples. The episode was pulled from the schedule, and Internet legend has it that Cruise threatened to not promote his new movie (made by Comedy Central’s parent company) if they didn’t take it out of the line-up. Voice actor and Scientologist Isaac Hayes quit South Park over the episode, though he’d never had an issue when the show made fun of other religions. According to leaked documents, the show’s creators were investigated for more than a year by Scientologists to try to dig up some dirt on them in retaliation. We imagine none of this helped the religion’s image in the eyes of South Park fans.

  3. Paul Haggis defects:

    Paul Haggis, a talented screenwriter, producer, and director, used to be a prominent member of the Church of Scientology and was friends with other big-name members like John Travolta, Anne Archer, and Sky Dayton. But after 35 years, he resigned his membership. Haggis disagreed with the Church on a number of issues, such as their stand against same-sex marriage. He was also disturbed by lies their spokesman had told about Scientologists’ beliefs and reports of violence and abuse within the church. In a 25,000-word piece in The New Yorker, Haggis reveals to the author how he got into Scientology, how he felt while he was in it, and how he came to realize it was a scam. Haggis and other high-up members who have left the Church have really shed light on the problems with Scientology, claims that the Church has tried its best to deny.

  4. The St. Petersburg Times exposes the secrets:

    Florida’s St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) released a three-part series on Scientology in 2009 with troubling information about the organization from four former top executives in the Church. Some of the revelations involve physical violence against members, cover-ups, bullying the IRS into giving the Church of Scientology tax-exempt status, and squeezing money out of members. This exposé actually helped encourage Haggis to resign from the church and showed secrets that only top members had known previously.

  5. Lisa McPherson dies:

    One of the topics covered in the St. Petersburg Times series was the death of Lisa McPherson, who died in 1995. McPherson turned to Scientology for support during trouble in her marriage and soon became very involved. But that also led to her racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt to the Church. Over the years, she became more frustrated and more ragged as she tried to overcome money troubles and mental illness. In 1995, she got in a minor car accident, took off all her clothes, and told a paramedic she needed help. She was taken to a hospital, but Church members encouraged her to check out against doctor’s advice and took her to their care center. Seventeen days later, she was dead from a pulmonary embolism. The Church of Scientology was initially charged with two felonies — practicing medicine without a license and abuse of a disabled adult. But by 2000, the medical examiner on the case changed McPherson’s manner of death to “accident,” with many alleging that Scientologists had muscled her into making the change. The story of McPherson’s death has haunted Scientology for more than a decade and likely won’t go away as long as new defectors come out with new information into what happened.

  6. Scientologists were caught stealing government documents:

    When you go so far as to commit infiltration, wiretapping, and theft of government documents to get rid of your unfavorable image, you know you’ve gone a little overboard. That’s probably not surprising coming from Scientologists, though. Operation Snow White was a conspiracy to get rid of records that cast the religion and its founder in a bad light. Scientologists are said to have infiltrated as many as 136 government agencies and embassies, including the IRS. Eleven high-ranking members, including L. Ron Hubbard’s wife, were charged and sent to prison for five years. The discovery of this scheme also helped officials find out about Operation Freakout, a plot to imprison or commit to a mental institution an author who had written negatively about Scientology. Neither operation is exactly the kind of thing the public looks kindly on.

  7. Scientology beliefs sound like they were written by a sci-fi writer:

    And in fact, they were. Founder L. Ron Hubbard established himself as a science fiction and fantasy writer before writing Dianetics, a self-help system that started the religion, in 1950. The basic beliefs are that each person’s soul, or thetan, holds onto trauma from past lives, which clouds your thinking and spiritual life. By going through “auditing,” where members emotions are measured by an electronic device called an E-meter, members work through past feelings that are holding them back. So far, so good. But those thetans are actually remnants of ancient aliens who were frozen by an intergalactic ruler and then disposed of in Earth’s volcanoes. Their souls then roamed the earth until they found humans to latch onto. Add this origin story (which, we should mention, the Church says is not a necessary part of adhering to Scientology) to the fact that the highest achieving Scientologists are supposed to receive powers, like the ability to heal wounds, increased immunity, ESP, and immortality, and the public has a hard time wrapping their heads around Scientology as a religion.