Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Paul Haggis, the Canadian filmmaker behind movies like Crash and Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, made his very public departure from the Church of Scientology in 2009. According to Haggis, he caught a whole lot of heck for it—he was disowned by friends, harangued by church officials, and disparaged on the internet. One of the very few Scientologists who refused to “disconnect” from Haggis was TV star Leah Remini. Now that Remini has defected from the organization, the director is returning the favour and standing up for her.
Haggis has penned an open letter (published on The Hollywood Reporter‘s site) expressing his support for the King of Queens actress. Leah, he writes, “was one of two Scientologists who had refused to ‘disconnect’ from me and certainly the only high-profile one when I decided to quit the organization in August 2009.” Haggis shares an anecdote about running into her at a school fair shortly after he’d left Scientology. “I kept my distance for fear of putting her in an awkward position, but Leah had no such fear. She walked up, asked me why I was being weird and told me she would always be my friend.”
Much later, the filmmaker found out that Remini had fought for him within the church, too. “She came to my defense—without me ever knowing it,” writes Haggis. “She had shouting matches with Tommy Davis, then the church spokesman, who had come to try and keep her quiet.” He argues that “the fact that she fought within the system so resolutely for so long, never making her feelings public, is a testament to how much she believed in the basic goodness of her friends and the institution.”
When years of fighting from the inside proved futile, Remini made the choice to leave. The split stemmed mainly, it’s reported, from the church’s policy of cutting off ex-members from their family who remain a part of Scientology, a punishment she herself faced by deciding to quit.
“I can’t express how much I admire Leah,” says Haggis, adding that “her parents, family and close friends were almost all Scientologists; the stakes for her were so much higher than for me. Her decision to leave was so much braver.”