I was 8 years old when I felt the first sting of religious intolerance. One year younger than my oldest boy.
I was in class and one of my classmates was handing out invitations to a birthday party. In a class of 30-some-odd children, I was the only child not invited.
She tried to explain a grown-up concept to a child. And all I wanted to know was why a little kid didn’t want me at her birthday party.
These are people I had grown up with, I’d known for years. Their parents knew my parents. And everyone knew we were “those Scientologists.”
I held my tears that day until I got home. When I walked through the door, I dropped my bags at the door and crumpled into my mom’s waiting arms. I told her what had happened and tried to understand why I was the only person not invited to the party.
She tried to explain to me that it was because people didn’t really think that our religion was real. That they were afraid because what we believed was different than their own faith. She tried to explain a grown-up concept to a child. And all I wanted to know was why a little kid didn’t want me at her birthday party.
It’s an experience I will never forget.
Through the 90s and 2000s on through to today, I have enjoyed freedom from this bigotry. We as Scientologists have worked hard to demonstrate our values to the world. We help. We are first responders to world disasters. We are mothers and fathers, neighbors and tutors. Nice people, moral people. We have faces and names. We have rights. And one of them is the right to practice our religion.
My children also have a right to a childhood. I don’t want to have to explain to my boy that the religion he has chosen to follow is under attack because of bigots and haters. I don’t want him to feel ashamed when his friends taunt him for a religion they know nothing about. I don’t want him to be uninvited to a birthday, or excluded by his peers, but I am getting ready for that eventuality. Because it will happen. That’s what bigotry does. Its lies and fear and falsehoods are contagious. It infects our culture, like a plague, scarring everyone who comes in contact with it.
I am preparing myself to try and explain grown-up concepts to my little kids. Because hatred and religious intolerance are the foundation of bigots like Leah Remini. The advertisers hawking their products on her show are supporting this trash. They are supporting a culture of hatred and paying millions to say: “intolerance is okay because they’re 'those Scientologists' and they’re different.”
But as the events of Charlottesville have unfolded, with the death of Heather Heyer, I think it’s time those companies took a look at their brand and business model and decided if they want to be on the side of love or hate.
In an era when we most need to focus on the things that unite us, these are the corporations funding the rise of hatred in America. And as I am on the side of peace, I will not support the intolerant. I urge others to do the same: to send a strong message. We will not fund hatred.