Scientology is one of the most scrutinized and controversial religious organizations in the world, and it's not hard to see why. Reports from former members of the church are often scathing, and some of those who speak out against the institution become targets of retaliation. Scientology believers and its detractors give conflicting statements regarding the cruelties the church inflicts on its members, but with a growing number of accounts of abuse, it's becoming easier to separate fact from fiction. And some of the accusations leveled against the church are truly chilling.
The allegations regarding the questionable tactics used by the Church of Scientology largely come from people who have left the church. Several former members have spoken out since their departure, and they claim they're revealing the truth about how Scientology works behind the scenes. Reportedly, Scientology closely monitors "suppressive" people, controls members' access to outside information, and sometimes holds people against their will. The church vehemently denies any wrongdoing, but it's pretty clear there's something dark going on within the closely guarded walls of this shady organization.
Scientology often comes into conflict with the medical community, and certain practices, like psychiatry, are completely forbidden to adherents of the religion. So when a young Scientologist named Lisa McPherson was rushed to the hospital after a car accident, a dispute was practically inevitable. Although the accident wasn't serious, McPherson suffered a psychotic episode in the aftermath of the wreck. She stripped nude and started walking away from her car until she was picked up by a paramedic team and taken to the hospital. Medical staff wanted to test McPherson's psychological state, but a group of Scientologists arrived and convinced McPherson to discharge herself into their custody.
Lisa McPherson died just 17 days after leaving the hospital. She was kept under constant surveillance at a Scientology facility in Clearwater, Florida. When her body was examined post-mortem, doctors discovered she hadn't been given any water for at least five days. She was only 36 years old when she passed away, and her death was attributed to a dehydration-induced blood clot. The church defended their actions in court, and they were cleared off all charges related to McPherson's death.
In Scientology, belief in the church is more important than any other aspect of life, including relationships with family and close friends. Personal relations can be cast aside in an instant if the church labels them suppressive. Members in the church who have suppressive relatives are ordered to completely disconnect from those people for good.
Questioning any part of the faith may cause you to be labeled as a suppressive person, which is enough to ruin your relationship with anyone still involved in the church. It doesn't matter if they're your parents, your spouse, or even your children. The policy is clear: if they're suppressive, then they're a bad influence and must be cut out of your life.
There are two options for people leaving the Church of Scientology: they can either slip into the night and never speak of their experiences, or they can go public and inform the press of the abuses they've witnessed. Going public about the cruelties of Scientology is a huge problem for the Church's leadership, and they respond by making detractors' lives a living hell.
Actress Leah Remini, creator of the docu-series Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, has been one of the Church's most vocal defectors, and the church has gone all out in their mission to destroy her reputation. "Given Leah Remini's insatiable desire for attention, it comes as no surprise that for two years she has been incapable of moving on with her life and remains obsessed with shamelessly exploiting her former religion in a pathetic attempt to get publicity," says the church about the actress and her crusade against Scientology's practices.
In an attempt to undermine her claims, they also claimed she was prone to "ethical lapses" during her time with the church. Many people who have created documentaries about Scientology's abuses have been the targets of similar smear campaigns.
Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, started a naval wing of the church that he named the Sea Organization. Often referred to as the Sea Org, the navy was supposedly founded to help monitor Scientology institutions abroad, but it's largely used to institute forced labor and help Scientology's richest members evade taxes. People who join the group must sign a billion year contract pledging themselves to the ship, and many youths who join don't see their families for years.
Only the most committed Scientologists join the program, mostly because enrollment means putting the Sea Org above every other aspect of your personal life. Members' commitment to the service means they cannot have children, and couples who become pregnant while working for the Sea Org are made to choose their duties over their child.
One woman sued the church for manipulating her into having an abortion when she was only 17. According to her statements, members of the church told her she would lose her husband and owe the church a huge financial settlement if she continued her pregnancy.