Inside Scientology and Escaping the Witnesses | August 2015 | Channel 5 Television (UK)
This programme is based on interviews which present the stories of three British women’s involvement in two different high-control religious groups – The Church of Scientology, and the Jehovah’s witnesses. There are striking parallels in the oppressive practices of the two groups.
It begins with an account of Sam Domingo’s 20 years in Scientology and moves on the experience of two other women with the Jehohvah’s Witnesses.
The researchers make one significant error (concerning the supposed legal status of Scientology in the UK – it is not recognised as a religion) but this does not detract from the testimony of ex-Scientologist Sam Domingo (who suffered a great injustice) which is engaging and powerful.
The Legal Status of Scientology in the UK
After introducing Sam, there is a potted history of Scientology beginning at 3′ 13″ which mentions L Ron Hubbard, Tom Cruise and John Travolta and then at 3′ 20″ makes a schoolboy error stating that,
In 2013 the UK Supreme Court ruled Scientology was a religion.
It did not. It ruled that Scientology ‘Orgs’ were entitled to register to perform civil wedding ceremonies. Since the law was liberalised, many venues (such as hotels and stately homes) have been granted this status. There has also been a rise of novelty weddings, with venues being granted temporary licences. As the Journalist Jon Sweeney pointed out at the time, the fact that you can get married in a supermarket doesn’t make Tesco a religion.
In fact, the ruling explicitly stated “‘It is not appropriate for the courts to determine questions such as whether this belief constitutes a religion. ” Also, in 1999 the Church of Scientology in the UK attempted to obtain charitable status (which confers tax concessions) on the grounds that they were a religion. They were refused, in a judgement that was so watertight that they have never appealed.
Saint Hill Manor and Sam Domingo
At 3′ 39″ there are some shots from outside Saint Hill Manor the UK HQ of the Church of Scientology. Sam Domingo worked here as a member of the Sea Org and points out the different buildings. However, the programme makers venture no closer.
In response, photographs of modern but deserted facilities at Saint Hill Manor were provided by the Church of Scientology (see image right) and shown.
An interview with an ex-Jehovah’s witness follows. She describes how she was taught that all outsiders are under the influence of Satan (the Scientology equivalent is that everyone who criticises Scientology is a ‘Suppressive Person’, or ‘SP’)
Despite the fact that it is described by the Church of Scientology as a ‘religious order’, the Sea Org adopts a naval ‘theme’ (including elaborate pseudo-naval uniforms and strict discipline).
After being denied ‘leave’ to visit her family, Sam went AWOL to be with them at Christmas. When she returned to Saint Hill Manor, she was punished by being assigned manual labour. She was then transferred to a Church of Scientology ‘Celebrity Centre in the US to work as a course supervisor. The question of whether this was to make it more difficult for her to leave Scientology, after having run away, is not explored.
She reports that conditions were better here, because staff were public facing, and could not be permitted to look scruffy or malnourished. However, her developing relationship with a colleague attracted the attention of senior officers whose attitude she describes as “[…] you guys are holding hands, you need to get married”.
They got married, and she became pregnant. This was a disciplinary calamity – Sea Org members are not allowed to have children, and it was made “very, very, clear” that representatives of the Church of Scientology considered that the appropriate thing to do was to abort the child. Her husband’s attitude is that she had committed this ‘offence’ deliberately and he offered no support. After considerable pressure from ‘senior officers’ she complied, and had an abortion – a decision that she now profoundly regrets.
We return to Sam after more interviews with the ex-witnesses. In the aftermath of the psychological and emotional effects of the abortion she joined the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) a kind of Scientology labour camp where members were supposed to be purified by hard work and the practice of Scientology.
Placido Domingo Jr, a member a fellow member of the Celebrity Centre, put pressure on those in charge of the RPF which led to her being released. They subsequently married, and continued to practice Scientology.
The programme makers become cautious here – they say that Sam claims that she not only had to pay for these courses, but also received an invoice for the those ‘services’ she received FOC while she was a Sea Org member ($50,000). However, Scientology’s system of ‘fixed donations’ for public members, and the ‘freeloader bill’ that is sent to those who leave the Sea Org are both well known (an example dated 1986 is shown in the image to the right, for $10,600).
The pressure to pay for more and more new courses ruined Sam’s finances and marriage. At last, she turned to the Internet, saw the experiences of others… and finally left the Church of Scientology. This break came 15 years after she was pressured into aborting her child. It proved difficult to rebuild her life.
She was then declared a ‘suppressive person’ and former friends were required to ‘disconnect’ from her and from her children. This was an experience shared by the ex-witnesses, who were ‘disfellowshipped’. The name is different. The practice is the same -organised and enforced shunning. If you communicate with such a person, you risk being shunned yourself.
Five years after she left the Church of Scientology Sam has returned to the UK and rebuilt her life. She evidently delights in her three pet ferrets (“I got them because they made the kids laugh”). The programme closes with her reflecting about her experience over footage of her provoking a paranoid response from security staff and Scientologists at Saint Hill Manor by merely standing outside the gates.