On Monday, actress and former Scientologist Leah Remini published an open letter in defense of filmmaker Paul Haggis. Remini coauthored the letter with her "Scientology and the Aftermath" partner, former Scientologist Mike Rinder.
For background, a lawsuit was filed on December 15, 2017, in which publicist Haleigh Breest alleges that Haggis raped her in 2013. Three other women spoke with the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, claiming they had also been victims of sexual misconduct at the hands of the filmmaker.
The Associated Press adds that on January 5, "Breest’s attorneys filed an amended complaint that includes details of the allegations lodged by the three new accusers."
Haggis filed a counter-complaint and denied the allegations. He also claimed that Breest and her attorney approached him prior to the lawsuit and attempted to extort him for $9 million.
Enter Remini and Rinder. Like the co-stars of A&E’s hit documentary series "Scientology and the Aftermath," Paul Haggis used to be a Scientologist. The filmmaker left the church in 2009, and was featured in season two, episode six, of Remini’s show, which aired on September 19, 2017.
For anyone who hasn’t watched the show, the premise is this: Remini and Rinder travel the country and speak with former members of the Church of Scientology. These individuals discuss the mental, physical, and sexual abuse they allegedly suffered while in the church, as well as the ruin it supposedly brings to those who try to flee.
The church — which is famously litigious — has gone after the show and its stars with incredible force. In addition to launching a website in order to discredit both Leah Remini and the stories presented on "Scientology and the Aftermath," the church placed commercials on YouTube in which Remini is made to look like a fraud.
The church has even targeted A&E’s advertisers, demanding they boycott the show, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In their joint-open letter, Remini and Rinder first write of the dangers of defending someone accused of sexual assault or misconduct:
There is plenty of reason to worry about defending anyone accused of sexual assault in today’s climate. But the fear of consequences for speaking our truth has not held us back in the past and isn’t about to start now.
We have supported victims of sexual abuse who have reached out to us and have worked with them and law enforcement to ensure justice is done for both victims and the accused. We have avoided trial by media.
In this time of heightened awareness of sexual predators, it is easy to remain quiet when an injustice is being perpetrated for fear of being tarred as politically incorrect. But more important to us than being politically correct is standing up for what we believe is right.
Remini and Rinder go on to defend Haggis as "a good man who has been a friend to us and so many others." They call him a man who has "championed the rights of women, the LGBT community and has fought for and devoted himself to the underprivileged in the world."
In the remainder of the open letter, they note that due to Scientology’s practice of "declaring" those who leave the church as "suppressive persons," their alleged practice of defaming those "suppressive persons" by utilizing the information they have acquired through years of "auditing," and the anonymous nature of the latest accusers, the allegations are "very suspect."
Like all of us, Paul Haggis is not perfect. Unlike a lot of us, he is truly a gentleman. A gentle man, with impeccable manners and a generous heart.
Like those of us who were scientologists, we trusted and confided in our church to seek resolution for our shortcomings. What is different about scientology is the detailed records they maintain of everything you tell them. And beyond that, they conduct intense interrogations based on the idea that only when all specifics and details are disclosed can one find relief. The names, dates, and minute details of any indiscretions, and even thoughts, are all recorded.
It is not a crime to be attracted to women (or men). It’s not a crime to flirt. Or to have sexual relations with someone. It might not be acceptable to your significant other (if you have one), but it certainly isn’t criminal nor worthy of newspaper headlines.
Only a scientologist can understand the pressure one feels to offer up even the slightest thing that the scientology organization might consider a transgression of THEIR mores. This information is used against anyone who departs scientology and dares speak their mind. This is not imaginary. There is a documented history of such things. When someone is declared an “enemy” by scientology, they are fair game.
With the name of everyone one might have thought of, flirted with or taken on a date, it takes little imagination to conjure a string of accusers being contacted and suddenly appearing out of the woodwork.
We expect the next “revelations” about Paul Haggis in this campaign to destroy him to be based on information culled from his scientology files in the form of more “anonymous” accusers, hiding behind a lawyer who will never have to disclose who is paying their bill.
Those who accuse without going to law enforcement, those who seek hush money to keep their stories secret, those who make accusations to the media anonymously – they are suspect. And when the target of these tactics is someone who is a prominent critic of scientology, it is very suspect.
Paul Haggis deserves, based on his record as a gentleman and humanitarian, to be judged when all the evidence has been taken under penalty of perjury in a court of law. Because claims of anonymous accusers who have NOT gone to law enforcement are not credible.
Unsurprisingly, the church has responded, calling Remini and Rinder’s letter a "reprehensible smokescreen to turn horrific sexual assault and rape allegations made against Haggis by four women into a bigoted attack about their former religion."
The church adds that "Ms. Breest has nothing to do with Scientology," and that the three anonymous women have no connection to Scientology.
"To be clear, the Church has never met the women in this case nor their attorneys and knows nothing about the accusations against Haggis other than what has appeared in press reports and public court documents," claims the statement from the church.