With neutral white text against a collage of faces, a new billboard in Echo Park appears to be encouraging Scientologists to pick up the phone and seek help. The large sign on Glendale Boulevard reads in part, "to my loved one in Scientology... call me."
Phil and Emily Jones, who put up the ad, say that they are just trying to contact their children. Former members of the church themselves, the Joneses tell ABC News that their daughter is employed by the church and both she and her brother have cut off communication with people outside of the religion.
The Joneses hope that the billboard also helps draw attention to the practice of "disconnection" that they say the church encourages. According to the couple's website, "disconnection is the severance of all ties between a Scientologist and a friend, colleague, or family member deemed to be antagonistic towards Scientology." Phil Jones says this is part of the church's efforts to control its members. "We know what the conditioning is and what goes on there," he says. "It is a form of hypnosis. We've experienced it, we went through it."
With help from a crowdfunding campaign, the couple has raised enough money to display the billboard for a month. Initially, the plan was to put the sign on Hollywood Boulevard, but the Joneses say their earliest agreements with billboard companies fell through. Whether or not that's because Scientology officials blocked the sign by buying every bit of available ad space isn't totally clear, but the church—itself no stranger to eye-catching advertisements—doesn't seem very happy about the new billboard. In a statement to ABC, church officials say that "It is...despicable that these individuals would use a private family matter to promote anti-religious hate and bigotry."
By the time the ad is taken down, it is estimated that more than a million people will have seen it.