The Church of Scientology has been courting controversy and inviting questions for about as long as it’s been around. The organization was founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and has been accused by past-members of being abusive and controlling—accusations the church denies. It’s also built around a belief system that many may find unusual. And since its membership includes a fair amount of celebrity believers, they’re often asked to talk about their faith in interviews. The Handmaid’s Tale star Elisabeth Moss is one such celebrity who was born to Scientologist parents and still practices today. And while she’s fairly private about her religious life, she’s opened up about it a few times over the years, including in a very recent, wide-ranging conversation. Read on to see everything Moss has publicly said about Scientology, from defending the group to debunking rumors.
In 2012, when Moss was in the middle of her run playing Peggy on Mad Men, she spoke to The Telegraph about Scientology and how she sees it as being different from other faiths.
“It’s not the same thing as going to church on Sunday,” she said, as reported by People. “It’s self-applied. It involves reading—you have to make a choice.”
She went on to say that it helps her balance her life.
“Some people say that yoga really helps them to feel centered,” Moss explained. “And some people feel that being vegan is something that makes them more of themselves. Or Kaballah. Or there’s Buddhism or whatever. I mean, I think that for me it’s one thing that has helped me at times, and it’s kind of as simple as that.”
The next year, Moss told told ABC News that Scientology encourages her to improve herself.
“I think that’s a good way of saying it, because there is so much focus on the, I guess, empowerment and, sort of, respecting yourself, and yourself as an individual,” she said.
Scientology is widely thought of as a secretive group, partially because—before the internet made everything accessible—even members had to rise to a certain level to have certain tenets and core beliefs revealed to them. Moss doesn’t always want to satiate people’s curiosity, however.
“It is weird for me to be put in the position where I am like, ‘No, I can’t. I don’t really want to talk about this,” she said in a 2016 interview with The Guardian. “You feel kind of like, I am a nice person who likes to talk about stuff. I also get the curiosity. I get the fascination. I become fascinated with things that are none of my business as well. I am just fascinated when someone breaks up with somebody. I want to know all about it. I am very interested in what people are wearing, and all of that kind of thing, but you have a right to your privacy.”
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Since 2017, Moss has been leading The Handmaid’s Tale, the TV adaptation of the Margaret Atwood novel about a dystopian society called Gilead in which women have lost almost all of their rights and many are forced to carry children for higher-class families. Some fans of the show saw a disconnect between Moss playing freedom fighter June while also being involved in Scientology. In one instance, the actor directly responded to a fan on that very topic.
A follower commented on Moss’ Instagram in 2017, as reported by Refinery29, “Love this adaptation so much. Question though, does it make you think twice about Scientology? Both Gilead and Scientology both believe that all outside sources (aka news) are wrong or evil… it’s just very interesting.”
“That’s actually not true at all about Scientology,” Moss said in her reply. “Religious freedom and tolerance and understanding the truth and equal rights for every race, religion and creed are extremely important to me. The most important things to me probably. And so Gilead and THT hit me on a very personal level. Thanks for the interesting question!”
Moss also spoke about Scientology in a 2019 interview with The Daily Beast, again addressing a question about any perceived similarity between the tight-knit, allegedly strict religious community and Gilead.
“Listen, it’s a complicated thing because the things that I believe in, I can only speak to my personal experience and my personal beliefs,” she said. “One of the things I believe in is freedom of speech. I believe we as humans should be able to critique things. I believe in freedom of the press. I believe in people being able to speak their own opinions. I don’t ever want to take that away from anybody, because that actually is very important to me. At the same time, I should hope that people educate themselves for themselves and form their own opinion, as I have. The things that I believe in personally, for me, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the ability to do something that is artistically fulfilling but is also personally fulfilling, I’ve never had that. The Handmaid’s Tale lines up so perfectly parallel with my own beliefs in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the things that this country was actually built on.”
Moss went on to reiterate that she doesn’t like to speak much about her own personal Scientology experience any more than she does “who [she’s] dating and that kind of thing.” She also brought up individual freedoms again, saying, “…when you start to say, “you can’t think that,” “you can’t believe that,” “you can’t say that,” then you get into trouble. Then you get into Gilead. So whatever happens, I’m never going to take away your right to talk about something or believe something, and you can’t take away mine.”
In a New Yorker profile to promote her new series Shining Girls, Moss was asked about two specific reports related to her Scientology beliefs. Moss, a fellow nominee, was at the Television Critics Association Awards in 2017 when King of Queens actor and ex-Scientologist Leah Remini won an award for her docuseries, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. It was reported at the time that Moss left the room when Remini accepted the honor.
“I went to the bathroom,” Moss told the outlet. “I wish it was more exciting than that.” She also countered a claim that she’s forbidden to speak to Remini by the church. “I have never been approached by her,” Moss said. “I have never received any request to talk to her. So there hasn’t been an opportunity for her to say that. I don’t know her that well, so it’s not like we were friends.”
Moss was also asked by The New Yorker about a 2017 article in The Hollywood Reporter in which ex-Scientologists Tiziano Lugli and Tony Ortega claim that the expletives in her Lead Actress in a Drama Emmy acceptance speech weren’t the product of shock and excitement but rather a Scientology communication practice. “Scientologists are urged to communicate with ‘average people,’ and to do so effectively you have to ‘go down the tone scale,'” Lugli told THR, specifying that cursing is a common way of doing that.
“That [expletive] me off,” Moss said of the report. “That was a really, really big moment for me, and it was a big moment for my mom and me. My mom, who has supported me through the years and been such an incredible mother to both me and my brother. And to tell a lie like that, about that—I didn’t deserve that, and it was wrong.”
“It’s not really a closed-off religion,” Moss asserted to The New Yorker. “It’s a place that is very open to, like, welcoming in somebody who wants to learn more about it. I think that’s the thing that is probably the most misunderstood.”
The actor praised the communication skills she learned from the church, noting that they’ve helped her in her personal life and her career. And again, she brushed off the question of how outsiders should view the darker claims that have been made about Scientology.
“I would just encourage people to find out for themselves,” she said.