The Rutherford Institute is a non-profit organization based in Charlottesville, Virginia dedicated to the defense of civil liberties and human rights. The organization was founded by its current president, John W. Whitehead, in 1982. The Rutherford Institute offers free legal services to those who have had their rights threatened or violated. The Rutherford Institute has a network of affiliate attorneys across the United States and funds its efforts through donations. In addition to its offer of legal services, the organization offers free educational materials for those interested in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Rutherford Institute also publishes a weekly commentary by John W. Whitehead which is featured in hundreds of newspapers and web publications, including The Huffington Post and LewRockwell.com.
While once primarily concerned with the defense of religious liberties, in recent years the organization has expanded its mission to encompass other constitutional issues such as search and seizure, free speech, and zero tolerance policy. The institute has been described as " a more conservative American Civil Liberties Union." The Institute has received some level of notoriety for its various legal actions, including helping Paula Jones pursue a sexual harassment lawsuit in 1997 against then-President Bill Clinton, as well as its defense of airline pilots and passengers affected by the Transportation Security Administration's security procedures, middle and high school students suspended and expelled under inflexible zero tolerance policies, and the free speech rights of preachers and political protestors. The Rutherford Institute has worked with a number of similar groups across the political spectrum, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Cato Institute, the Constitution Project, and the Liberty Coalition. President and founder John W. Whitehead has been described by jazz historian and civil libertarian Nat Hentoff as "this nation's Paul Revere of protecting civil liberties."
The Rutherford Institute was named after Samuel Rutherford, a 17th-century theologian who wrote a book, Lex, Rex, which challenged the concept of the divine right of kings. When the Rutherford Institute was founded, conservative Protestants[who?] in the United States were reconsidering their role in American political and legal life, perceiving that the federal government was intent on encroaching on Americans' religious liberties. Organizations such as the Rutherford Institute pursued matters of religious liberties in the courts, and the Rutherford Institute became the model for groups such as the National Legal Foundation, the Liberty Counsel, and the American Center for Law and Justice.
History and legal actions
Since its founding, the Rutherford Institute has expanded its aims from defending the religious liberties of Christians to include defending the religious liberties of all Americans, as well as working to preserve rights such as free speech and the right to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure.
In 2004, the group filed a lawsuit against Muskogee Public Schools in Oklahoma on behalf of Nashala Hearn, an 11-year-old Muslim student who was suspended for wearing a religious headscarf to school.
In 2007, the group filed a lawsuit against Freehold Township, New Jersey on behalf of an orthodox rabbi, Avraham Bernstein, alleging that the town was persecuting Bernstein for holding prayer meetings in his home on the Sabbath.
In 2011, the group took up the cause of Laura George, founder of the Oracle Institute, who wanted to build a "Peace Pentagon", a proposed interfaith study center and retreat, on the banks of the New River in Independence, Virginia. When George was refused a building permit when the local Board of Supervisors voted to deny the project on health, safety and welfare grounds, attorneys acting on behalf of the Rutherford Institute pursued a legal action to acquire the permit, alleging religious discrimination. Eventually the building permit was granted.
Freedom of speech
In 2012, the Rutherford Institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of Harold Hodge, a man arrested in January 2011 for standing outside the United States Supreme Court Building carrying a sign which read, "The U.S. Gov allows police to illegally murder and brutalize African-Americans and Hispanic people." Other cases include defending an Albemarle High School student's right to wear a National Rifle Association T-shirt to school and contesting the firing of a California teacher who referred to "Zionist Jews" during an Occupy Movement protest.
Search and seizure
In 2008, the Rutherford Institute joined a coalition of civil libertarians and activists who called upon President George W. Bush to release a number of Muslim Uighurs who were being detained indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In 2010, the group took on a number of cases regarding the Transportation Security Administration's controversial security procedures at American airports. The organization filed a lawsuit in November 2010 against Janet Napolitano, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security as well as John Pistole, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, on behalf of airline pilots Michael Roberts and Ann Poe. The pair of pilots objected to being subjected to "whole body imaging" scanners, which reveal the nude body of the subject being searched, as well as a pat-down. John W. Whitehead said of the matter, "Forcing Americans to undergo a virtual strip search as a matter of course in reporting to work or boarding an airplane when there is no suspicion of wrongdoing is a grotesque violation of our civil liberties." The next month, the Rutherford Institute filed another lawsuit on the behalf of three passengers that took issue with the TSA screening procedures: a 12-year-old girl placed in a body scanner without parental consent, a man who was subjected to an invasive pat down in his genital area due to an abnormality caused by a childhood injury, and a woman who had undergone a mastectomy and was forcibly patted down in her breast area.
In 2010, President John W. Whitehead sent a letter to Ken Cuccinelli, the Attorney General of Virginia, decrying his legal opinion that school officials may seize and search student cell phones and laptops upon suspicion that a student has broken school rules or the law.
In 2011, the group filed a friend of the court brief in the case U.S. v. Jones, imploring the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that the placement of a GPS tracking device on the defendant's car without first obtaining a warrant constituted an illegal search. In January 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that police must first obtain a warrant before placing a physical GPS tracking unit on a suspect's car.
In July 2014, The Rutherford Institute supported the Libertarian Party of Virginia and alleged that Virginia ballot laws favored "the election chances of Democrat and Republican candidates at the expense of Libertarian Party and independent candidates."
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- Moore, R. Jonathan (2007). Suing for America's Soul: John Whitehead, the Rutherford Institute, and Conservative Christians in the Courts. Grand Rapics, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. pp. 3–4. ISBN 978-0-8028-4044-8.
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- Newmarker, Chris (October 19, 2007). "Rabbi expands lawsuit against N.J. town". USA Today. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
- Kinzie, Susan (July 7, 2011). "Proposed interfaith retreat center in Virginia tests founder, community". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
- "VICTORY: Grayson County Board of Supervisors Green-Lights Development of Spiritual Retreat Center in Response to Rutherford Institute Lawsuit". The Rutherford Institute. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
- "Conservatives call on Bush to free Muslim Uighurs". USA Today. November 20, 2008. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
- Provence, Lisa (November 16, 2012). "Rutherford Institute sues over 'virtual strip searches' and 'rub-downs'". The Hook. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
- "Rutherford Institute files second suit over TSA procedures". The Daily Progress. December 7, 2010. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
- Helderman, Rosalind S. (December 2, 2010). "Rutherford Institute: Cuccinelli opinion could turn schools into 'authoritarian police states'". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 18, 2012.
- "Supreme Court rules police must get search warrant to use GPS". Press and Guide. January 23, 2012. Retrieved April 17, 2012.
- "Rutherford Institute Files First Amendment Lawsuit Challenging Discriminatory Election Laws that Favor Major Party Candidates over Independent, Minor Ones". The Rutherford Institute. July 2, 2014. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
- "Rutherford Institute files suit on behalf of third-party candidates". Daily Press. July 3, 2014. Retrieved July 3, 2014.
- "Libertarian Party challenges Virginia ballot laws". WDBJ7. July 3, 2014. Retrieved July 4, 2014.