Leah Remini and Jada Pinkett Smith opened up this week about ending a public feud that was sparked when Remini, an ex-Scientologist-turned-anti-Scientology crusader, made the claim last year that the “Girls Trip” actress had been a member of the controversial organization.
Pinkett Smith subsequently denied being a member of the Church of Scientology, issuing a tweet saying she had studied Dianetics and Study Technology, referring to practices developed by Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
However, the actress, 47, insisted that’s as far as her involvement went.
“I am not a Scientologist,” she wrote.
I have studied Dianetics, and appreciate the merits of Study Tech… but I am not a Scientologist.
— Jada Pinkett Smith (@jadapsmith) September 19, 2017
With People reporting that the will women hash out their differences in an upcoming episode of Pinkett Smith’s Facebook Watch series, “Red Table Talk,” it appears that Pinkett Smith’s denial may hold as the final version of the story about her Scientology association.
But should it? And was Remini really wrong to make that assertion about her?
Probably not. That is, according to reporting by Tony Ortega, the former Village Voice editor who has long chronicled the Church, its alleged abuses and its high-profile members.
In recent years, Ortega has addressed questions about Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s association with Scientology in interviews and in posts on his Underground Bunker website.
Ortega wrote in a 2017 post that Pinkett Smith at one point was a “dedicated” Scientologist, while Will Smith was “a dabbler” who supported his wife’s devotion to the Church.
Ortega said, “We have known for years that the dedicated Scientologist in the family was Will’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith.”
He added, “Anyone who reports on Scientology and knows about the Smith family involvement knows this very well. It’s not even controversial.”
It’s likely that both Pinkett Smith and Will Smith walked away from Scientology by 2015, according to both Ortega and Mike Rinder, a former church executive who has co-hosted Remini’s A&E documentary series, “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.”
“We believe the Smiths have walked away from Scientology,” Ortega wrote in 2017. “But there’s little doubt that a decade ago, Jada Smith was an enthusiastic church member, regardless of what she tells the public today.”
The Scientology feud between Remini and Pinkett Smith erupted in 2017 when Remini told the Daily Beast: “I know Jada’s in. I know Jada’s in. She’s been in Scientology a long time.”
Before Remini left Scientology in 2013, after being in the organization since childhood, she was part of a social circle that included Tom Cruise, the Church’s most high-profile member, and other celebrities targeted by church leaders for recruitment, including Jennifer Lopez and David and Victoria Beckham.
Questions have long swirled around Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s association with the church, according to another Daily Beast report.
There were tabloid reports that Will Smith was warned his career would be hurt by affiliating with Scientology. Meanwhile, entertainment writers and critics have tried over the years to identify Scientology-inspired themes in Smith’s more serious, metaphysical-style films or in the “out-there” statements coming from his teenage children, Jaden and Willow, the Daily Beast said.
In her 2017 Daily Beast interview, Remini said she had seen Pinkett Smith at the Celebrity Centre and talked about how the Smiths had opened up “a Scientology school.”
“Jada, I had seen her at the Scientology Celebrity Centre all the time,” Remini said.
Remini was referring to the Scientology Celebrity Centre in Hollywood, while the “Scientology school” referred to the since-shuttered New Village Leadership Academy in the upscale neighborhood of Calabasas.
In 2015, Ortega published an interview with Jacqueline Olivier, a former Los Angeles Unified School District teacher and private school head, who was hired by the Smiths in 2007 to open the school. The Smiths financed the New Village Leadership Academy with $1,235,000 from a family trust, according to tax records Ortega viewed.
Originally, the school was designed to cater to the Smiths’ home-schooled children and to other children whose parents were Scientologists. At one point, Tom Cruise’s daughter Suri attended the school, according to the Daily Beast.
But at the same time, the Smiths insisted that the school should be “secular.” They also opened it up to non-Scientologists, according to Olivier.
Still, Olivier said the Smiths asked her to use Hubband’s “Study Technology” as the guiding curriculum for the school. Teachers hired for the school also had to undergo Scientology training before they could interact with students, and L. Ron Hubbard posters adorned the walls.
Scientology, Olivier told Ortega, “was the basis for the whole school. That was the overarching reason for it.” She added that students were learning to be Scientologists, with Will Smith telling her, “It has to be 100 percent in,” indicating that Scientology processes should be followed to the letter. Olivier said she was fired by the Smiths in 2009 because she chafed at the emphasis on Scientology over other teaching methods.
Ortega said sources told him that Will Smith never joined the church, despite his focus on using Scientology materials in the school. “If Will enforced Scientology at the academy, it was an experiment he and his wife were trying seven years ago,” Ortega wrote.
When Remini made her claim about Pinkett Smith, Daily Beast writer Marlow Stern wrote that Pinkett Smith didn’t respond to requests for comment.
But Pinkett Smith responded by taking to Twitter. She argued she wasn’t a Scientologist by issuing tweets about enjoying the practices of other faiths — like praying in a mosque or lighting candles for Shabbat — without becoming an adherent of those faiths.
I have prayed in mosques all over the world… but I am not a Muslim.
— Jada Pinkett Smith (@jadapsmith) September 19, 2017
To Ortega, these Twitter denials by Pinkett Smith came across as “a bit of a dodge.”
“Jada clearly wanted to give the impression that her connection to Scientology was superficial, and maybe even somewhat obligatory as an open-minded multicultural celebrity,” Ortega wrote.
But Pinkett Smith’s connection was clearly more than superficial, given reporting by Ortega and others, showing that she helped establish a school created around Scientology practices.
Olivier, the former New Village Academy principal, agreed that Pinkett Smiths’ denials rang hollow. She said Will Smith opened the school, either because he was “into Scientology himself” or because he “really loved Jada” and wanted to make her happy.
As for Pinkett Smith being a Scientologist, Oliver told Ortega: “I have not one doubt. There is no question.”