LOS ANGELES - Actress Katie Holmes faces two strong adversaries in her legal fight for sole custody of 6-year-old daughter, Suri, as she battles estranged husband Tom Cruise and his Scientology religion, experts said on Monday.
The Dawson's Creek actress, 33, made headlines last week when she filed for divorce from Mission: Impossible actor Cruise after nearly six years of marriage and one child.
While Holmes, Cruise and representatives for both have remained quiet about the reasons for the high-profile split, speculation in the media is that Suri, now at the age when she begins a formal education, and the Church of Scientology, of which Cruise is a key member, are central to the breakup.
"What's interesting is that there's three players in this case - the mother, the father and this very controversial concept of Scientology," said New York-based divorce lawyer Lubov Stark.
"The daughter is in the middle of this whole divorce. She seems to have been raised in Scientology up to this age, so if the judge comes in and gives custody to Katie Holmes, she can change (Suri's) religion," Stark said.
The Church of Scientology was founded by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, and it describes its practices as a religion. The organisation believes man is an immortal being whose experience extends beyond one lifetime, and it has attracted followers including Cruise and John Travolta.
But some observers - including media mogul Rupert Murdoch - liken it to a cult. Critics think the group coerces followers to think like they do, and they accuse Scientologists of harassing people who seek to quit.
On Sunday, following last week's news of Holmes' divorce filing, Murdoch took to Twitter and called Scientology "a very weird cult" and Scientologists "creepy, maybe even evil."