The Bizarre Truth About Will Smith And Scientology

Will Smith has managed to establish a solid reputation for himself over the years. He has had an incredible acting career, a long-lasting marriage with Jada Pinkett-Smith, and a successful family that has endured the hardships of being in the spotlight. Following his on-stage altercation with comedian Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars, the actor was subject to some additional media scrutiny. However, Will has had some controversial moments throughout his career  — including being linked to the Church of Scientology.

Despite several links connecting the star to the divisive church over the years, he has consistently maintained that he is not, nor was he ever, a Scientologist. In fact, he has some solid people in his corner to support his claim. Former Scientology senior executive Mike Rinder and Scientology blogger Tony Ortega both allege that while the links are there, Will is definitely not part of the church, per The Daily Beast. But has that always been the case? The bizarre truth about Smith and Scientology may actually be more complex than it seems. 

It all started with Tom Cruise

In Hollywood, Tom Cruise may be the celebrity name most associated with Scientology. He is said to have introduced his church's values to many celebrities including, reportedly, Will Smith. By all accounts, the two appear to be pals. Speaking to GQ in 2021, the "King Richard" star explained, "Tom and I became friends in the middle of his public difficulties." That may have been sometime around 2006 when Cruise caught heat for his eccentric behavior and opinions on Scientology.

A year later, rumors swirled that Smith had also joined the church. However, he seemed quick to dispel the idea while talking to "Access Hollywood." After stating that Cruise had indeed introduced him to Scientology, Smith appeared to sidestep any direct association with the church and instead insisted he was interested in world religion. "I was raised in a Baptist household, I went to a Catholic school," he explained. "But the ideas of the Bible are 98% the same ideas of Scientology, 98% the same ideas of Hinduism and Buddhism." 

However, the star also spoke out in defense of Cruise and suggested that people were criticizing the "Eyes Wide Shut" icon without fully understanding his beliefs. "... How you gonna not know nothing about Scientology and attack somebody? It's dangerous and it's ignorant," he said. That same month, he clarified his personal stance on Scientology to Collider, stating that he preferred to maintain his own sense of spiritualism outside of organized religion.

Jada allegedly had strong ties to the church

Reports of the Smith family hanging out with Tom Cruise started popping up after Jada Pinkett-Smith starred alongside the actor in the 2004 thriller "Collateral." While the "Scream 2" star has never publicly subscribed to the belief system, many sources have claimed that not only did she once practice Scientology, but she was also heavily involved in it.

Former Scientologist Sam Domingo alleged to the Daily Mail that Jada was not only a member but also a recruiter who was paid to lure people into the church. "Jada was always around Celebrity Centre, doing her own thing with Kelly Preston in the President's Office. They were like the Stepford Wives of Scientology," she told the outlet. 

The claim appeared to be echoed by Tony Ortega, a journalist who has extensively covered celebrity involvement in Scientology. On his blog, The Underground Bunker, he claimed that the "Gotham" star was a member of the church and that she was more involved than Will Smith. Ortega wrote, "We have known for years that the dedicated Scientologist in the family was Will's wife Jada Pinkett Smith." Jada's alleged connections to Scientology did not stop there. In fact, they only appeared to get stronger over time.

The couple donated a hefty sum to Scientology causes

Defending Tom Cruise for his dedication to Scientology is one thing. But Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith also reportedly donated money to causes associated with the church, taking their rumored involvement to the next level. In 2004, around the time Jada was working with Tom Cruise, she and Will jointly donated $20,000 to a Church-run literacy campaign called HELP, per Fox News. The Hollywood Education and Literacy Program was described by the outlet as being a foundational part of Scientology's home-schooling structure.

By 2008, the couple had allegedly far surpassed their original $20,000 donation with The Will Smith Foundation reported as having given a total of $122,500 to organizations connected to Scientology, per ABC News. While this is a staggering number, it is small in comparison to the other $1.3 million in donations reportedly made from the foundation that year. Per the outlet, on top of philanthropic support for art and civic groups, the money was also said to have gone to a variety of religious organizations including a Los Angeles mosque and an evangelical Christian ministry center in Philadelphia.

This wouldn't be the end of the Smith family's alleged involvement with Scientology's schooling system.

The start of their controversial school

Perhaps the strongest suggestion that Will Smith may have once been associated with Scientology is through the alternative school that he and Jada Pinkett-Smith launched together. According to The Daily Beast, the couple first started a home school in 2007, with their children Jaden Smith and Willow Smith being among the its first students. Robotics expert, Mariappan Jawaharlal, Ph.D. was a guest lecturer at the school, which he described to the outlet as taking located in a big house, occupied by 20 or 30 students. 

The couple reportedly hired a longtime educator in the Los Angeles school district, Jacqueline Oliver, to bring their dreams of launching a school into a reality. Speaking to The Underground Bunker, she described how the academy was originally pitched to her. "They had a home school. They presented it as an opportunity to found a school. They were going to spend a lot of money. It was going to be secular, and it would use best educational practices," she said.

In 2008, Will made moves to launch a physical school outside his family home, spending $890,000 to lease Indian Hills High School, per The Guardian. A source dished to the publication, "Will is leasing the campus for three years, plus he'll cover all costs such as utilities. The academy will be run privately, and will include pre-kindergarten through grade six." Named the New Village Leadership Academy, the school proved to be controversial from the start.

Did the New Village Leadership Academy teach Scientology?

Speaking to The Daily Beast, the school's principal Jacqueline Oliver alleged that while Scientology was never explicitly mentioned, Study Technology was pushed to be the main methodology for learning. According to the official Scientology website, "Study Technology is the term given to the methods L. Ron Hubbard developed to enable individuals to study effectively," and is considered by the church to be an introductory step in joining. The methodology has attracted criticism over the years with The Underground Bunker once critically suggesting, "'Study Tech' turns schoolwork into conditioning."

Per Radar, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith maintained that the teachings were secular. However, Oliver argued that not only was the school's curriculum based on Scientology, but teachers also had to become knowledgeable in Scientology before they could start working. "You couldn't interact with the kids until you'd taken a bunch of Scientology courses," she told the outlet. "And they were still supervised by Scientology teachers to make sure they didn't make any mistakes using Scientology Study Technology."

Despite several connections to Scientology, Jada consistently denied that the school was affiliated with the organization. The actor told Ebony in 2009 (via ABC News), "All I can say is it is not a Scientology school ... That is straight evil to think that I would bring families into that educational institution and then try to get them to convert into some religion."

The school eventually closed amid troubles

Upon its opening, the New Village Leadership Academy raised concerns from many regarding its controversial teaching methods and association with Scientology. David S. Touretzky, a research professor at Carnegie Mellon University, openly criticized the school's apparent usage of the church's training techniques to the Los Angeles Times. "There is no reputable educator anywhere who endorses [study technology]," he claimed. "... what happens is that children are inculcated with Scientology jargon and are led to regard L.R. Hubbard as an authority figure."

When parents caught wind of the New Village Leadership Academy's alleged link to Scientology, the school may have started to crumble. In 2013, a source with direct ties to the facility told Star Magazine (via Newsone), "Will and Jada put millions into [the school]. But there's a lot more to a school than money ... if people don't agree with the teaching material, then all the money in the world won't save it."

To top off those concerns, the school was reportedly also dealing with financial troubles. According to The Underground Bunker, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith funded the New Village Leadership Academy for the first three years. However, they allegedly struggled to receive the necessary contributions for the school to remain self-sustainable during the final two and it closed in June 2013.

Leah Remini pointed the finger at Jada

Leah Remini, a former Scientology member and vocal critic of the organization, has not held back about her experience in the church and those she encountered along the way. That's included Jada Pinkett-Smith. The actor told The Daily Beast in 2017, "I know Jada's in. She's been in Scientology a long time. I never saw Will [Smith] there, but I saw Jada at the Celebrity Centre ... all the time."

Jada did not formally respond to Remini's claims. However, the actor did post a thread on Twitter to clear the air about any misconceptions of her religious affiliations. She copped to having studied Dianetics — a methodology by which Scientologists attempt to overcome mental health issues — and found Study Tech to be beneficial. However, she stated outright, "I am not a Scientologist. I practice human kindness, and I believe that we each have the right to determine what we are and what we are not."

Remini's accusations caused strain between the former friends, but the actor later joined Jada on "Red Table Talk" in 2018 to address their history. In the episode "Setting the Record Straight" the "Girls Trip" star confronted Remini regarding the claims she wrote in her 2015 memoir, "Troublemaker." Reflecting on the impact of her statements, the author responded, "I wasn't even considering that you would be hurt ... I was so caught up in that pain, and also the pain of others and the effects that it had."

After Earth was accused of having Scientology themes

Around the time that Will Smith's private school closed, he starred in the 2013 sci-fi action film "After Earth" alongside his son Jaden Smith. The film, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, was a critical failure and underperformed at the box office, earning only $26.5 million on its opening weekend, per Deadline. In addition to the various criticisms of the movie, "After Earth" was accused of having Scientology themes. In a piece titled, "'After Earth' is Will Smith's love letter to Scientology," Vulture even suggested that the film's subtext wasn't subtle and that it featured countless comparisons to the teachings of Scientology.

Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, Marc Headly, a former church member, was particularly struck by the dialogue in the film which he argued was heavily influenced by the doctrines of L. Ron Hubbard. For example, he paralleled the "After Earth" line, "Root yourself in this present moment now. Sight, sound, smell. What do you feel?" with some of the lessons of the church. "While undergoing certain types of Scientology counseling, you are asked to recall what you see, hear, touch and smell," he wrote. "This is part of putting yourself in the moment and observing the moment with 'full perceptions.'"

In 2015, Will reflected that the film was a significant professional low for him — not least of all because he'd brought his son on board the project. He told Esquire, "That was the most painful failure in my career."

Has Will Smith ever been a Scientologist?

Despite being repeatedly associated with Scientology over the years, Will Smith has stringently denied being part of the church. Back in 2006, the Oscar winner denied any connection to the organization, telling the World Entertainment News Network (via ABC News), "Jada and I don't necessarily believe in organized religion. I was raised in a Baptist household, and my grandmother would get up out of her casket [if I became a Scientologist]." In 2018, Will joined Jada Pinkett-Smith on the "Red Table Talk" to open up about his personal life and shut down speculation regarding it. Talking about the couple's relationship, and the various rumors concerning it, the actor said, "Just to have it on the record ... we've never been Scientologists." 

Curiously enough, Will's claim appears to be at least somewhat backed up by Tony Ortega, the journalist from The Underground Bunker who has spent years investigating and speaking out about allegations regarding the church — including the potential affiliation of the Smith family to it. In 2022, he took to Twitter to claim, "Will and Jada Smith have been out of Scientology since at least 2015. (Jada was heavy into it, Will was a dabbler.)" 

A believer in God ... and ayahuasca

Outside of his career and his family, Will Smith is dedicated to belief systems that help him become the best version of himself. The actor's first introduction to religion and spirituality was through his Baptist grandmother, a regular at the Resurrection Baptist Church in Smith's hometown of Philadelphia per The Christian Post. In 2021, the star told the outlet about the role and influence of spirituality in his life, and said, "You can't get where I get if you don't love the Lord, you don't get to sit how I sit, move how I move if you don't love the Lord."

While Smith does appear to subscribe to some Christian beliefs, he has said in the past that he is not largely into organized religion. Rather, he seems to embrace spirituality as a way to better connect with himself, his family, and the world around him. In his memoir "Will" (via The New York Post), for instance, the actor revealed that he went on a spiritual psychedelic journey following a rough patch in his marriage. Taking the psychoactive brew ayahuasca, he entered into a celestial trip which helped him realize his self-worth and his role as a husband. He wrote, "If I'm this beautiful, I don't need #1 movies to feel good about myself. If I'm this beautiful, I don't need hit records to feel worthy of love. If I'm this beautiful, I don't need Jada or anyone else to validate me."