The Church of Scientology does not turn the other cheek.
Consider the passage that a prominent Scientology minister selected from the religion's scriptures, authored by the late L. Ron Hubbard, to inspire the faithful during a gala church event.
"People attack Scientology," the minister quoted Hubbard as saying. "I never forget it; always even the score."
The crowd cheered.
As far back as 1959, Hubbard warned that illness and even death can befall those seeking to impede Scientology, known within the church as "suppressive persons."
"Literally, it kills them," Hubbard wrote, "and if you don't believe me I can show you the long death list."
He told the story of an electrician who bilked the organization. "Within a few weeks," Hubbard said, "he contracted TB."
Scientology seems committed not only to fighting back, but to chilling potential opposition. For years, the church has been accused of employing psychological warfare, dirty tricks and harassment-by-lawsuit to silence its adversaries.
The church has spent millions to investigate and sue writers, government officials, disaffected ex-members and others loosely defined as "enemies."
Teams of private detectives have been dispatched to the far corners of the world to spy on critics and rummage through their personal lives--and trash cans--for information to discredit them.
During one investigation, headed by a former Los Angeles police sergeant, the church paid tens of thousands of dollars to reputed organized crime figures and con men for information linking a leading church opponent to a crime that it turned out he did not commit.
Early last year, an American Scientologist was arrested in Spain for possessing dossiers containing confidential information on a member of Parliament and a Madrid judge who is oversaw a fraud and tax evasion probe of the church. The dossiers included personal bank records and family photographs, according to press accounts.
Before a British author's critical biography of Hubbard was even released two years ago in Europe, the church had him and his publisher tied up in a London court for alleged copyright infringement. The writer speculated that Scientology sympathizers had somehow managed to obtain pre-publication proofs of the book.
Scientology spokesmen insist that the organization is doing nothing illegal or unethical, and is merely exercising its constitutional rights with vigor.
They argue that Scientology has been targeted by hostile government and private forces--including the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI, the press, psychiatrists and unscrupulous attorneys--that have persecuted the church since its founding three decades ago.
As a matter of self-preservation, lamented Scientology attorney Earle C. Cooley, the church has been forced to fight back and then has been unfairly chastised for its aggressiveness.
"When we were attacked at Pearl Harbor we didn't just sit back and defend there," Cooley declared. "We tried to get out on the offensive as quickly as possible. . . . To sit back and ward off the blows is ridiculous."