Rutherford Institute

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The Rutherford Institute claims to be "Dedicated to defending civil liberties and human rights".

Glancing over the headlines on the home page, the site does not immediately seem inconsistent with that motto. But gay people criticise the organization for a homophobic agenda, which is a hint that the organization may not be what it claims.

In the most recent homophobe case, an employee of AT&T was dismissed because he did would not sign a paper stating he "agreed with and accepted" the terms in the 84 page employee handbook which included statements in favor of diversity he found objectionable: "to acknowledge that he agrees with a lifestyle which he believes to be sinful would be to compromise his faith and contradict what he considers the Bible's views on homosexuality to be." Considered by itself, this case does, appear, to have some merit even if the client's motivations are repugnant. The ACLU sometimes defends clients they find repugnent to uphold prinicples. One could imagine that if AT&T had won this case in a higher court it would set precedent that could be used to infringe the rights of a a homosexual who disagreed with company policies that were homophobic. And it is rather hard to imagine progressives not being bothered by having to sign a statement that they would not merely comply but actually "agreed with" an 84 page company policy document. It is not uncommon for such documents to also contained provisions that dictated what hours employees worked (wether or not the schedule was relevent to the performance of their duties), what they could wear, hair length, drug use that does not affect job perfomance, and other areas where corporate culture takes precedence over individual liberties. While it is common for employers to be forced to comply with those policies, they shouldn't be expected to endorse them. So, one can look at this as a legitimate free speech case (the Rutherford Institute seems to see it as a religious freedom case more than free speech). The institute's founder has written an article entitled "The Homosexual Power Agenda". While the Rutherford institute purports that its motives in this case are not ant-gay, it has on numerous occasions supported the bill of rights against homosexuals but there do not appear to be any cases where they have stood up for a homesexual's rights.

The pattern of behavior is more revealing than a single case. An examanation of their "recent victories page" ("recent" being used very loosely) shows the pattern more clearly. Out of 9 cases cited, 6 were in support of religious expression. One would expect a champion of religious freedom to support the non-dominent religions (the dominant religion having the tyrany of the majority in its favor) but 5 out of the 6 cases were clearly Christian and the other unidentified. One of the remaining cases was defending a students right to display the confederate flag.

In one case that was not clearly religious in nature, Rutherford Objected to external genital exams as part of a head to toe physical on preschoolers as part of the eligibility requirements for the Head Start program. Rutherford treated it as if the genital exams (for normal development) were an infringement of the parents rights against unlawful search without probable cause and alleged that the inspection could only be for signs of sexual abuse. In their mission statement they included "protecting the rights of parents whose children are strip-searched at school"; is that a fair characterization of a routine physical exam conducted by trained nurses? Rutherford seems more concerned in this case with promoting parental rights than promoting children's rights.

The "Free Speech Zone" case, where they opposed West Virginia University's severe restrictions on where on campus students could demonstrate might actually be a generic free speech case though the institute's motivations are not at all clear in that case. This is the only US case encountered where they appear to be advocating free speech but not religious speech, homophobic speech, cross burning, or confederate flags.

There do appear to be a few occasions where the institute has apparently defended religouts rights of non-christians but those appear to be international cases in countries where Christianity was not the dominent religion, so they appear to support religious diversity only in those countries where it would work for, rather than against, Christianity.

The navigation tabs may give more of a hint of the organizations views than the rhetoric of their mission statement: Free Speech, Religious Freedom, Church Rights, Sanctity of Life, Parents Rights,Zero Tolerance, search & seizure, sexual harrassment, death penalty, international.

Rutherford's founder, John W. Whitehead "hoped to influence American culture by encouraging Christians to play a more active role in the courts and in society as a whole." And he takes partial credit for increased involvement in politics by Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson. Americans United for Separation of Church and State was paraphrsed as "Whitehead's Institute has a long history of using standard right-wing themes in fund-raising letters, including attacks on public education, gay people and separation of church and state."

They oppose zero tolerance policies, at least when they are imposed on children eating frenchfries on the metro, playing with make believe guns, or using over the counter or prescription medications. A pagan lesbian abortion doctor who didn't see a non-smoking sign might not get the same consideration.

Rutherford's most well known case was when it paid for Paula Trip's sexual harrasment case against Bill Clinton. It claimed its involvement in that case was non-partisan. That argument would carry more weight if Rutherford had also pursued sexual harassment cases against high ranking Republicans. The Rutherford institute does seem to be against the PATRIOT act and similar encroachments on civil liberties so it is not always alighned with the Republican party.

The position on race issues is not very clear. Prosecuting racism certainly doesn't seem to be their focus (though you would expect more involvement from this area from their motto). They do appear to have, on occassion, sided with a black individual on non-racial cases where it was consistent with their primary agenda. They wrote in support of the ACLU's defense of the KKK cross burning (on their own property?) as a freedom of speech case. Rutherford does seem to have taken on a single anti-African American racism case against a hotel that turned away black musician Teddy Riley (a baptist who has done some gospel). Their record concerning other racial minorities was not checked.

On their "key cases" page, they list four cases. In one, they backed a female US military officer's right to not be forced by the military to wear the black robe required of women in Saudia Arabia, describing it as an affront to her Christian faith. In another, they backed a Christian Youth group which wanted to meet at a public school. In the third case, the fought for the Parental Rights of parents of a child with brittle bone disease who were thought to be responsible for the child's broken bones. And the last case cited is the Paula Jones v. Bill Clinton case.

Their litigation report lists additional cases that have gone to littigation as opposed to setting out of court. These cases are very similar in makeup. Mostly supporting Christian's religious expression, toy or make believe guns in school (5 cases), some parental consent cases (3 cases), All four of the cases cited as "Free Speech" cases, as well as most of the other cases, were religious expression cases. Of note, there were 3 cases of supporting Muslim Prisoners right to religious expression. Out of 36 cases, only the eight zero tolerance and parental consent cases were not specifically religious expression cases and of the religoius cases only the 3 muslim cases were non-christian.

The Rutherford Institute intervened on behalf of a National Park Service employee who was repremanded for homophobic expression when he added "amen" below where another employee had added "God bless the Boy Scouts of America" in response to an email from President Clinton to Park Service employees announcing "Gay and Lesbian Pride Month". The boy scouts had won a court case allowing them to exclude homosexuals.

TurnOUT! writes that the Rutherford Institute "is the primary institution behind a form of Christianity known as Reconstuctionism. The primary tenet of this faith is a belief that America must be remade as a pure white "Christian" nation with old-testament Biblical law as the law of the land. Reconstructionism is very influential amongst the milita movement. John Rushdooney is their patriarch. State-mandated executions of gays is amongst the Biblical law they wish to implement."

The Rutherford Institute seems to be more interested in the Ten Commandments than the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, a.k.a. The Bill of Rights. The cases surveyed almost all centered on Relgious Expression, and the Christian values of parenting, and children. Except for the Paula Jones case, one token freedom of speech case, and a token racism case, the few other cases focused on protecting borderline or outright hate speech.

The motto "dedicated to defending civil liberties and human rights" does not appear to be an accurate reflection of the organization's agenda.


  • Free speech: selectively supports religious speech Christians
  • Religious Freedom: selectively supports it for Christians
  • Smoking: wants to make it illegal
  • Abortion: against
  • Euthenasia: against
  • Sexual Freedom: homophobic
  • Zero tolerance: against
  • Death Penalty: against
  • Government: possibly anti-government
  • Gun ownership: for
  • Parental Rights: for
  • Education: focuses on religious expression, zero tolerence, and parental consent
  • Separation of Church and State: against
  • Economics: ?