Jul 14, 2016

Billboard seeking to reunite broken Scientology families coming to Clearwater

Tampa Bay Times

·        Tracey McManus, Times Staff Writer

July 12, 2016


CLEARWATER — The same, desperate plea Phil and Willie Jones plastered across a billboard in Los Angeles is scheduled to go up on East Bay Drive next week.

"To my loved one in Scientology … Call me," it will read.

The couple crowdsourced funds to put up the West Coast billboard in April as an attempt to inspire their two adult children, who are members of Scientology in Los Angeles, to reconnect with their parents. Phil Jones said since he and his wife left the religion around 2012, the church forced their children, Mike, 42, and Emily, 38, to cut off contact with their nonbelieving parents, a practice called disconnection.

Shortly after the billboard went up, Jones, 63, said he got requests from Floridians for a similar appeal in Clearwater — home of the Church of Scientology's worldwide spiritual headquarters — on behalf of other families who say they have also lost touch with loved ones.

Jones, an insurance adjuster now living in Las Vegas, didn't hesitate.

"In the end, this is not just about my wife and I and our kids anymore," he said. "There's literally thousands of people out there who have suffered from Scientology disconnection."

Initially contacted Monday afternoon, church spokesman Ben Shaw responded Tuesday afternoon stating that the Jones children "are best qualified to answer you."

In an email to the Tampa Bay Times, Emily Jones said that her parents are driven by money and that their fundraising effort to finance the billboard is a scam.

She said her parents have harassed her and her brother by distributing handbills in her neighborhood stating they were missing and calling police to say they were being held against their will.

"The only reason our parents are bringing up our religion is because it is a prominent religion, and our parents see it as something they can capitalize on for their own profit," Emily Jones wrote.

Phil Jones started a GoFundMe.com campaign last month to cover the cost of printing and renting the billboard in Clearwater, the same way he paid for the one in Los Angeles. He hopes to continue raising money to cover the $4,000 monthly cost through the end of the year. As of Tuesday, the campaign had raised $5,370.

Although he said the billboard is scheduled to go up sometime next week on East Bay Drive, Jones declined to disclose the exact location or the billboard company in fear that church officials may interfere with his plans.

"When we did this in L.A., we went through two companies," Phil Jones said. "Every time we announced ahead of time, they shut us down. They threatened the billboard companies."

The Clearwater billboard will be identical to the one in Los Angeles, directing readers to the Joneses' website, StopScientologyDisconnection.com.

There, Jones defines disconnection as a "cruel and abusive practice" that is "the severance of all ties between a Scientologist and a friend, colleague or family member deemed to be antagonistic towards Scientology." The website of Scientology states disconnection is a "self-determined decision made by an individual" to aid spiritual progress.

A Scientologist can either handle the other person's antagonism with data about the religion or stop communicating with that person, the website states.

But Jones said the disconnection experience for his family was more forced and traumatic than that.

He and his wife spent more than 40 years in Scientology, first in his native Canada and then Clearwater. Around 2009, the couple began to quietly question the religion after reading investigative reports detailing allegations of abuse committed by church leaders. Scientology has denied those reports. The Joneses stayed under the radar for four years, disclosing their doubts to nobody out of fear they'd lose their friends, family and business contacts.

But once church officials caught wind of their misgivings, Jones said his sister, who has reached one of the highest levels in the religion, flew down from Canada to confront them.

"That was it," he said. "Overnight we lost everything."

The couple moved to Las Vegas and have been trying ever since to reach their children, who both work in the Sea Organization, the church's religious order.

Jones said he participated last month in a protest outside of the Galaxy Press building, a publishing arm of Scientology in Los Angeles, where he saw his daughter's husband.

"I called out to him and asked if he could have Emily call her mom," Jones said, "but he didn't say anything."

Although they've been unsuccessful in reuniting their family, Jones said their efforts have led to the creation of a support network that has brought some level of comfort.

The goal is for the Clearwater billboard to do the same.

"It doesn't get any easier, unfortunately," he said, "but we'll never give up."

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.



Here is the full statement from the Jones' adult children, sent from Emily Jones' email address:

Dear Ms. McManus,

We understand you have contacted the Church of Scientology regarding a story about our father Phil Jones' attacks upon our religion and harassment of us. When we were informed of this, we asked for your contact information so we could explain the truth to you.

We are both married adults nearing middle age. We had always strived to have a warm and loving relationship with our parents. The truth is that our parents have made no attempt to mend relationships. They are the ones who broke off relationships with us despite the help we have given our parents over the years. Not more than 5 years ago, when I (Emily) found my father was unable to walk, I found a doctor, paid for the treatment myself, and got him the help he needed because that is what any daughter would do. Then my aunt and uncle paid for medical equipment for further treatment for him. And now, because we had no more money to give him, he joins up with a group attacking our religion, mocks our life choice and makes false claims about us.

For years, our parents went from job to job and profession to profession never succeeding at anything. We truly believe they are exploiting our family in this way motivated solely by money. It is a scam, as is their fundraising efforts to finance their "billboard." And now they have decided that the course of saying and doing harmful things to us, and our reputations is their chosen course for money!

Here's the following harassment our parents have engaged in: Our parents distributed handbills with one of our pictures in the area where we work and live falsely claiming that one of us was "missing." Our parents called the Police and reported to them falsely that one of us was being held against our will. The Police came to interview one of us on that subject. Our parents called the Department of Social Services and falsely reported to a Social Worker that one of us had a health condition requiring immediate intervention of the Department. We had to correct all these false reports, with the Social Worker, the police and our neighbors. For any parent to do this to their own children is disgusting. All they want to do is harm us. For our parents to do it to us is abusive.

And if all of this isn't bad enough, imagine if you knew that your parents were doing all this for the benefit of television cameras so that they could be paid money.

Then imagine, after having to disprove these lies and suffer their harassment, you next discover your "parents" are continuing to spread these lies and are now raising funds to put them on billboards thousands of miles from where we live! These aren't "loving" parents, they only want to harm us as a way of making money.

The only reason our parents are bringing up our religion is because it is a prominent religion—and our parents see it as something they can capitalize on for their own profit. But this is America and our parents' actions are un-American. If parents of a Catholic, Methodist, Jew (or any other religion) did what our parents are doing, the response from their children would be no different. So, this is not about religion at all. It's about horrible parents.

If our parents were serious about having our family together again here is what they'd do: 1) stop lying; 2) stop selling themselves to television producers for their financial gain; 3) admit they have done us wrong and never do this again.

Most parents would be proud of children who hold great jobs allowing them to travel the world, experience new things every day and lead happy, successful lives helping others. Not them. We and our brother, who is not a Scientologist, have a great relationship. None of us have a relationship with our parents due to their actions. It is sad to see our parents break up the family this way and even worse to see them spreading lies about us for money.


Mike and Emily Jones

Billboard seeking to reunite broken Scientology families coming to Clearwater 07/12/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 13, 2016 6:21pm] 




No comments: