NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas — All Monique and Marty Rathbun had to do was show themselves, and trouble would follow.
Walk down the front steps of their home. Take out the trash. Sit on their back deck. Climb into their pickup. A group of Scientologists called the "Squirrel Busters'' were always there, taunting, pointing cameras at them, telling Marty Rathbun to stop what he was doing. They often rolled up in a golf cart, coming from a rented house down the street.
And they kept it up for 199 days, until September 2011, Monique Rathbun told a Texas courtroom Thursday as testimony opened in her lawsuit alleging that Scientology leader David Miscavige directed a three-year intimidation campaign against her husband that ricocheted and harmed her as well.
Rathbun, 41, is claiming she suffered emotional distress resulting from the church's actions against her husband, a former Scientology executive who since 2009 has been a whistle-blower against Miscavige and church management.
Marty Rathbun also has advised people who have left the church, and in many cases given them the same type of counseling offered in Scientology facilities. It is assumed in Scientology that anyone who practices outside the church's official orbit is altering "the technology," and followers have a nickname for such people — squirrels. That's why the visitors to the Rathbuns' home called themselves the "Squirrel Busters," showing up in caps and T-shirts emblazoned with an image of Rathbun's head on a squirrel's body.
"Every time we left our house, any time we went out the door, here they came in golf carts,'' Monique Rathbun said during testimony before Comal County judge Dib Waldrip.
She also said she believes the church tried to drive a wedge between her and husband using other tactics — private investigators calling on friends and family, a sex toy anonymously sent to her workplace and surveillance cameras installed recently in an undeveloped lot next to their new home, a remote house outside San Antonio. The Rathbuns say they moved there to get away from church operatives.
Discovering those cameras was the last straw, Monique Rathbun testified as about 20 friends and former Scientologists listened.
She decided to sue, she said, because "We just can't keep running.''
But were the Squirrel Busters invading a homeowner's privacy in confronting the Rathbuns? Or were they exercising their First Amendment rights, protesting where they believed the practice of Scientology was being corrupted by improper delivery?
On cross examination of Rathbun, church attorney Les Strieber III asked her several questions that may have hinted at the church's defense strategy.
She acknowledged no church representative physically assaulted her or her husband. No one trespassed on their property.
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Even though she saw cameras pointed at her and her husband — at their house and at visitors to their home — she has not seen photos taken by those cameras.
She confirmed that she performed Scientology's core spiritual practice of one-on-one counseling in her home. She also said her husband counseled her and she trained under him to counsel others.
Strieber suggested the Rathbuns infringed on church trademarks by delivering Scientology counseling. He also asked Mrs. Rathbun: Did she think the Squirrel Busters believed her husband was violating the church's orthodoxy?
Strieber was part of a large team of lawyers representing the seven defendants Rathbun is suing: Miscavige, two church entities, three private investigators and one of the Squirrel Busters.
The two-day hearing before Waldrip seeks to determine whether a temporary injunction against Miscavige should be made permanent.
San Antonio lawyer Lamont A. Jefferson, representing Miscavige, said the leader's attention is trained solely on Scientology's ecclesiastical matters.
He said the plaintiff's goal was to depose Miscavige, and that such an action would run afoul of religious freedom protections in the First Amendment. Those protections prevent civil courts from intruding into church governance, he said.
Jefferson also argued that Monique Rathbun could continue her lawsuit with the Church of Scientology International as a defendant, not Miscavige.
The church has "sufficient assets to address any damages she claims she has suffered as a result of this supposed investigation," Jefferson said.
Alluding to the alleged harassment, he said Scientology has a right to protect its orthodoxy, and everything the church did to confront the Rathbuns was legal.