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November 19, 2020

The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of a North Carolina student who was suspended from school and reported to police for possessing a look-alike weapon and making a threat after he displayed a toy gun during a virtual class as part of a Halloween assignment to “look scary.”

November 13, 2020

In a victory for religious liberty, The Rutherford Institute has reached a settlement with the State of Delaware over a First Amendment lawsuit challenging discriminatory COVID-19 restrictions that applied to churches but not big-box shopping stores, liquor stores, and guns shops. Under the settlement, Delaware promises not to reissue rules targeting churches that limit the number of persons who can worship, the number of services that can be held, and how churches conduct rituals such as baptism and communion.  The lawsuit, Rev. Dr. Christopher Allen Bullock v. Gov. John C. Carney, was filed on behalf of Rev. Bullock, the founder and pastor for Canaan Baptist Church near New Castle, Del., who believes the state’s restrictions overstepped the wall of separation between church and state. 

October 29, 2020

Fighting back against the “policing for profit” forfeiture system that unfairly enriches police departments at the expense of ordinary citizens, The Rutherford Institute has come to the aid of a Michigan man whose vehicle was taken by police without a warrant and kept for three years without any opportunity to challenge the lawfulness of the seizure.  In an amicus curiae brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Nichols v. Wayne County, Rutherford Institute attorneys assert that this case is but one of many nationwide showing the injustice that results from civil asset forfeiture laws that incentivize prolonged detention of seized property in the absence of evidence that the property owner had broken any laws. In 2017 alone, Wayne County police reportedly seized vehicles from 380 people who were never charged with criminal activity.

October 22, 2020

In a blow to privacy that extends the government’s authority to create a web of surveillance, the Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that state and local police are free to use Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs) to collect data about the travel and movement of persons throughout the state. Denouncing the fact that Americans cannot even drive their cars without being tracked by the government, The Rutherford Institute had asked the Court to rule in Fairfax County Police Department v. Neal that the use of ALPRs violated a Virginia law restricting government collection of personal information. Mounted next to traffic lights or on police cars, ALPRs  photograph over 1,800 license tag numbers per minute, take a picture of every passing license tag number and store the tag number and the date, time, and location of the picture in a searchable database. The data is then shared with law enforcement, fusion centers and private companies and used to track the movements of persons in their cars. There are reportedly tens of thousands of these license plate readers now in operation throughout the country. It is estimated that over 99% of the people being unnecessarily surveilled are entirely innocent.

October 15, 2020

The Rutherford Institute has again come to the aid of a Georgia parent who has been barred from attending her son’s high school football games unless she compromises her religious beliefs and complies with the school district’s mask requirement for spectators.

October 02, 2020

The Rutherford Institute has weighed in before the U.S. Supreme Court on a case in which campus police, citing “disorderly conduct,” prevented a college student from speaking about his Christian faith and distributing religious literature from a small free speech zone on a 260-acre campus. In an amicus brief filed in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, Rutherford Institute attorneys are asking the Supreme Court to hold officials at Georgia Gwinnett College liable for violating college student Chike Uzuegbunam’s free speech rights and ensure that campus policies adhere to the First Amendment.

September 23, 2020

The Rutherford Institute has come to the aid of a Georgia mother who has been barred from attending her son’s high school football games unless she compromises her religious beliefs and complies with the school district’s mask requirement for spectators. In a letter to the superintendent of Fulton County (Ga.) Schools (FCS), Rutherford Institute attorneys point out that Tara Barnett’s request to attend her son’s football games without a face covering while social distancing from other spectators qualifies for a religious accommodation under Governor Kemp’s executive orders, which requires masks to be worn when social distancing is not possible. All spectators at FCS athletic events are required to social distance by sitting in designated areas six feet apart from other spectators unless sitting with family. 

September 17, 2020

The Rutherford Institute has issued a precautionary “opt out” letter as a means by which families whose children are taking part in remote learning / virtual classes might assert their Fourth Amendment privacy rights and guard against intrusive government surveillance posed by remote learning technologies. The Institute released its model “Parental Reservation of Rights – Remote Learning Surveillance” letter in the wake of a growing number of incidents in which students have been suspended and reported to police by school officials for having toy guns nearby while taking part in virtual schooling.

September 16, 2020

Seeking to ensure that Delaware does not reinstitute strident COVID-19 restrictions imposed at the outset of the pandemic, The Rutherford Institute is asking a federal court to reject the governor’s motion to dismiss a First Amendment lawsuit safeguarding churches from being unfairly discriminated against in their efforts to worship in accordance with their religious beliefs. Delaware's COVID-19 restrictions included a ban on gatherings that was specifically applicable to churches and “strongly encouraged” houses of worship to transition to remote services by video or telephone. However, the ban on gatherings contained numerous exceptions, allowing big-box shopping stores, liquor stores, and guns shops to be open without having to abide by a 10-person restriction. 

September 11, 2020

Responding to numerous reports of low-flying aircraft harassing property owners throughout Central Virginia in August 2020, The Rutherford Institute has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Virginia State Police (VSP) seeking information about its aerial surveillance program in order to determine whether the state is complying with Fourth Amendment restrictions on the use of aircraft to spy upon citizens. While the Fourth Amendment allows law enforcement to conduct naked-eye observations of private property during ordinary flyovers, the Constitution forbids unusually low flyovers or the use of high-tech sight-enhancing equipment for aerial searches.  

September 02, 2020

The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of a Nevada firearms training facility threatened with fines because of its plans for reopening.  In a letter to officials with Nye County, Nevada, on behalf of Front Sight Firearms Training Institute, Rutherford Institute attorneys warned local officials against abusing government authority during the pandemic to curtail Second Amendment rights. Pushing back against claims by Nye County officials that Front Sight faces fines and other penalties due to its plan to allow more than 50 persons in its training facility, Institute attorneys point out that firearms training, designated as “essential infrastructure,” is exempt from the governor’s emergency restrictions. Moreover, attorneys assert that Front Sight Firearms Training Institute is exempt from gathering restrictions and mask requirements imposed by Nevada’s governor because state law forbids the use of emergency powers to prohibit activities at the core of the constitutional right to bear arms, including training in the safe use of firearms.  

August 10, 2020

With more than 97,000 children testing positive for the coronavirus during a two-week period that coincides with schools across the nation struggling to determine when and how to safely re-open, student whistleblowers at a Georgia high school district were suspended for sharing pictures on social media showing mostly maskless students in a crowded school hallway. Although the suspension has since been lifted following a public outcry, The Rutherford Institute warned North Paulding High School officials against threatening students who raise legitimate health and safety concerns about the school environment, pointing out that students’ First Amendment right to speak out and share information about school conditions may not be restricted or sanctioned unless it materially and substantially disrupts school operations.

July 23, 2020

Fighting to ensure that no one is imprisoned in violation of their constitutional rights, The Rutherford Institute is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to allow persons convicted by non-unanimous juries to challenge those convictions under the Court’s recent ruling in Ramos v. Louisiana that the Sixth Amendment requires all jurors vote to convict a criminal defendant. In filing an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court in Edwards v. Vannoy, The Rutherford Institute has joined a coalition of civil liberties organizations that includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Conservative Union Foundation, Cato Institute and R Street Institute.

July 08, 2020

In a victory for the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty, the U.S. Supreme Court has reaffirmed the right of religious schools to be free from government meddling in decisions involving religious doctrine and who is allowed to teach that doctrine. In a 7-2 ruling in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Agnes Morrisey-Beru and St. James School v. Darryl Biel, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws that protects religious employers from certain lawsuits. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute had filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that the government has no jurisdiction to second-guess church decisions on who can act and serve as “ministers.”

July 01, 2020

Rejecting long-standing state laws that discriminate against religion, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Montana must allow scholarships it provides to be used by families for tuition at religious schools.  The Court’s 5-4 decision in Espinoza v. Mont. Dept. of Revenue found that a state constitutional provision restricting aid to religious institutions violates the First Amendment rights of parents and children when applied to forbid families from using state financial assistance to attend private schools with religious ties. In an amicus brief filed in Espinoza, The Rutherford Institute pointed out that the school choice restriction was the result of a 150-year-old provision known as a “Blaine Amendment,” which was enacted in an era when anti-Catholic prejudice and nativist opposition to immigration from Ireland and Germany were rampant. Thirty-seven states still have versions of the Blaine Amendments in their Constitutions.

June 22, 2020

Denouncing attempts by big tech companies and social media platforms to silence controversial, provocative and/or politically unpopular viewpoints, The Rutherford Institute has warned that any move to de-platform, shadowban, and demonetize users based on their viewpoints will subject private corporations working in conjunction with the U.S. government to the strictures of the First Amendment. In recent months, Google, Facebook, YouTube and other social media companies have taken steps to crack down on content that disputes accepted views on COVID-19; that could be considered “fake” news by establishment sources; or that could be perceived as promoting “hatred, intolerance, violence or discrimination.” The sites targeted for censorship include those of David Icke for questioning the prevailing orthodoxy regarding the COVID-19 pandemic; Zero Hedge for not blocking reader comments that violates Google’s policies on race; and The Federalist, also for allegedly racist remarks posted in its comments section.

June 15, 2020

Despite growing calls to hold police accountable for using excessive force in non-threatening circumstances, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review any cases challenging the doctrine of “qualified immunity,” which shields police from liability for official wrongdoing. The nine qualified immunity cases in which the Court denied cert involved a SWAT team’s destruction of a home by bombarding it with tear gas grenades, a police dog that was ordered to attack a man who had already surrendered, and the mistaken shooting of a 10-year-old boy by a cop who was aiming for a non-threatening family dog.

June 11, 2020

The Rutherford Institute delivered a strongly worded rebuke to President Trump and members of his administration for invading, seizing and occupying church property in violation of longstanding prohibitions against government encroachments on the free exercise of religion. In a letter to President Trump, Rutherford Institute attorneys assert that he and other Executive Branch officials flagrantly abused their power on June 1, 2020, when government agents mounted an armed invasion of St. John’s Episcopal Church; physically assaulted church officials acting in their official capacity; forcefully ejected church officials from church property, thereby preventing them from exercising their right to religious freedom; and used military forces to temporarily seize church property in order to allow President Trump to usurp a religious pulpit for his own political purposes. Warning that the government’s actions could open the Trump Administration up to further legal action, Rutherford Institute attorneys are calling on the president to repudiate his actions of June 1.

June 04, 2020

In a major victory for the First Amendment rights of churches to not be unfairly discriminated against in their efforts to worship in accordance with their religious beliefs, Delaware will no longer impose any mandatory COVID-19 restrictions on houses of worship beyond those that are generally applicable to other secular entities. The concession comes in the wake of a First Amendment lawsuit filed by Rutherford Institute attorneys in Rev. Dr. Christopher Allen Bullock v. Gov. John C. Carney, which challenges the manner in which state governments have subjected churches to more strident COVID-19 restrictions while allowing exceptions for big-box shopping stores, liquor stores, and guns shops. The latest guidance, issued by the governor’s office on June 2, removes all prior prohibitions and mandatory restrictions on church gatherings, replacing them with recommendations that churches can use as they determine how best to safely and responsibly minister to their congregants.

June 02, 2020

Denouncing the fact that Americans cannot even drive their cars without being enmeshed in the government’s web of surveillance, The Rutherford Institute has asked the Virginia Supreme Court to prohibit Virginia police from using license plate readers as surveillance tools to track drivers’ movements. Mounted next to traffic lights or on police cars, Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR), which photograph over 1,800 license tag numbers per minute, take a picture of every passing license tag number and store the tag number and the date, time, and location of the picture in a searchable database. The data is then shared with law enforcement, fusion centers and private companies and used to track the movements of persons in their cars. There are reportedly tens of thousands of these license plate readers now in operation throughout the country. It is estimated that over 99% of the people being unnecessarily surveilled are entirely innocent. In challenging the use of license plate readers by Fairfax police, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that Fairfax County’s practice of collecting and storing license plate reader data violates a Virginia law prohibiting the government from amassing personal information about individuals, including their driving habits and location.

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