Scientology Defectors: A Timeline - Rolling Stone
Home Culture Culture Lists

Scientology Defectors: A Timeline

From allegations of abuse to lack of support for LGBT rights, a look into why 10 former Scientologists decided to leave the church

The Church of Scientology might be one of the most secretive organizations in the country, but there's one thing it can't seem to keep quiet: defections. Since its creation in 1953, a string of celebrities and higher-ups have left the church. For years, those who defected largely kept quiet about what they'd seen on the inside – but increasingly, that's changed.

In 2009, a St. Petersburg Times series revealed a host of former high-level executives who shared their stories. Then, in 2015, an HBO documentary called Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief – based on a 2013 book by journalist and screenwriter Lawrence Wright – told the stories of many of these defectors. Just months after that film was released, sitcom star and former Scientologist Leah Remini wrote a book about her 30 years in the church, and this year, followed it up with her A&E show Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, in which she tells her story and interviews fellow defectors. 

Now, it seems, Scientology's greatest blessings – its celebrity followers and devoted lifers – have become their biggest liability. But how far back do the defections go? Here, 10 people whose lives revolved around Scientology –then made the conscious decision to leave. 

Barcroft/Getty

Paul Haggis

Who he is: Canadian director and screenwriter Paul Haggis, best known as the writer of Million Dollar Baby and Crash, told his Scientology story in Going Clear. He was in a troubled relationship in the early 1970s, he says in the documentary, and became convinced Scientology could save it.

Cause for Defection: He left publicly in 2009, saying that the church failed to come out harshly enough against California's Proposition 8, which made gay marriage illegal in the state. In his resignation letter, Haggis wrote, "Despite all the church's words about promoting freedom and human rights, its name is now in the public record alongside those who promote bigotry and intolerance, homophobia and fear."

Most WTF Scientology Moment: In the letter, Haggis also details how his wife was "ordered to disconnect," or cut off all contact with, her parents based on their perceived crimes against Scientology. In response to Haggis' comments, specifically the ones regarding disconnection, the church used his prior statements against him. When he was a member of the church, Haggis wrote that the policy is a "self-determined decision." The church has also dismissed the Prop 8 issue as an isolated occurrence and that the church avoids taking "overt" political stances.

Dan Callister/ZUMA

Ron Miscavige

Who he is: In his 2016 book Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me, Ron Miscavige relays how he introduced his son David to Scientology in the early 1970s. Father and son both hoped it would cure David's asthma.

Over the next decade, David rose up the ranks considerably. In 1985, when Ron was accused of attempted rape, his son was able to use Scientology's resources to help Ron. After he was acquitted that same year, Ron joined the Sea Org.

Cause for Defection: Miscavige blamed conditions in the Sea Org – which he said included long work days and little privacy – for his eventual departure from the church in 2012.

Most WTF Scientology Moment: Ron has accused the church of hiring private investigators to tail them. He claims one such PI, who briefly suspected Ron was having a heart attack, was told by David to "let him die and not intervene in any way," if that was the case. (The church has denied this incident occurred.)

Miller Mobley/A&E

Leah Remini

Who She Is: King of Queens actress Leah Remini joined the church at her mother's urging in the early 1980s. She spent three decades as a Scientologist, and claims to have spent millions of dollars on books, classes, and auditing.

Cause for Defection: Remini left the church in 2013, after a series of run-ins with Miscavige and his close friend Tom Cruise. Though she was initially quiet about her reasons for leaving, in her 2015 book, Troublemaker, she says she was reprimanded by church officials for asking about Miscavige's wife (who hasn't been seen in public for a number of years), and for several other infractions she says she committed at Cruise's 2006 wedding to Katie Holmes. Those conflicts, and the possibility of her own young daughter disconnecting from her, prompted Remini's departure.

Most WTF Scientology Moment: Remini claims the church once asked for her help killing what it saw as an unfavorable 60 Minutes segment. Cruise, she said, asked her to call CBS chief Leslie Moonves and convince him to squash the segment. She tried, but didn’t happen. In response to this story and her new show, the church has said that she is "in it for the money and now tries to pretend otherwise," and that she tried to extort the church for $1.5 million, "because the Church invoked its First Amendment right to respond to her false claims with the truth."

Arrow Created with Sketch. Calendar Created with Sketch. Path Created with Sketch. Shape Created with Sketch. Plus Created with Sketch. minus Created with Sketch.