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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.

May 21, 2020

In a victory for common sense and the rights of churches to safely exercise their constitutional rights in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State has conceded that churches may hold drive-in worship services. The announcement by Gov. Andrew Cuomo came five days after The Rutherford Institute came to the defense of a small church in Massena, NY, that was allegedly threatened with prosecution and $1000 fines for holding drive-in worship services that adhere to social distancing guidelines.  

May 19, 2020

Taking issue with 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 Rutherford Institute is asking a federal court to ensure that churches are not being unfairly discriminated against in their efforts to worship in accordance with their religious beliefs. In a First Amendment lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for Delaware, Rutherford Institute attorneys argue that Gov. John Carney’s state of emergency orders restricting indoor gatherings deprive Delaware churches of the equal protection of the law. 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 are too intrusive, overstepping the wall of separation between church and state.

May 15, 2020

The Rutherford Institute has warned that it will consider filing a First Amendment lawsuit if police continue to threaten a New York church with prosecution and $1000 fines for holding drive-in worship services that adhere to social distancing guidelines. In a legal letter to the Chief of Police for the Town of Massena, NY, Rutherford Institute attorneys point out that while federal and state governments have adopted specific restrictive measures in an effort to decelerate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the current public health situation has not resulted in the suspension of fundamental constitutional rights such as religious freedom, freedom of speech and the right of assembly. Institute attorneys also pointed out that such a ban is an overbroad restriction on First Amendment rights as long as other similar drive-in activities are allowed. For example, the state’s restrictions allow for gathering in convenience stores, beverage stores, hardware stores, and drive-thru restaurant lines. 

May 07, 2020

In refusing to strike down an overly broad law criminalizing pro-immigration speech, the U.S. Supreme Court has paved the way for the government to punish anyone engaging in so-called “anti-government” speech that encourages resistance to tyranny through civil disobedience. Elevating judicial technicalities and procedure over fundamental rights, the Court unanimously ruled in United States v. Sineneng-Smith that the lower court had overstepped its authority when it, and not the defendant, noticed that the federal statute which makes it a crime to “encourage” undocumented aliens to remain in the country was overbroad in violation of the First Amendment. The Rutherford Institute, in conjunction with the ACLU and the Service Employees International Union, filed an amicus brief in the case arguing that the statute is overbroad and could serve as a model for laws used to punish anyone who urges resistance to government tyranny.  

April 24, 2020

The Rutherford Institute is warning government officials not to weaponize the COVID-19 health crisis in order to justify carrying out surveillance on and retaliating against persons who exercise their First Amendment rights to publicly protest government misconduct in a manner consistent with “social distancing” guidelines. The Institute issued its warning after officials reportedly threatened a Maryland family with up to a year in jail and a $5000 fine if they attempt to publicly assemble and protest the murder of 21-year-old Duncan Lemp, a software engineer and Second Amendment advocate, who was gunned down in his bedroom during an early morning, no-knock SWAT team raid on his house.

April 20, 2020

In a 6-3 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that states must abide by the Sixth Amendment’s requirement of unanimous jury verdicts for convictions in criminal cases involving “serious offenses.” Pushing back against the idea that the application of fundamental constitutional rights is dependent on what state you live in, The Rutherford Institute had filed an amicus brief in Ramos v. Louisiana, asking the Supreme Court to prevent the states from “watering down” the rights of criminal defendants and arguing that the right to a unanimous jury in criminal cases—a right dating back to the Magna Carta—should be uniform throughout the United States. 

April 17, 2020

The Rutherford Institute is pushing back against an effort by police to chill constitutionally-protected civil rights protests through the use of retaliatory lawsuits. In filing an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Mckesson v. Doe, Rutherford Institute attorneys are challenging a ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that allows law enforcement officials to hold protest organizers financially liable when officers get hurt (accidental or otherwise) while carrying out their duties at a constitutionally-protected demonstration, even when the organizers themselves did nothing to cause the injury. Incredibly, the lower court reasoned that organizers of a protest should be held responsible for engaging in activity that merely has the potential to involve police or require their presence, thereby exposing them to possible injuries. The case arose after a police officer, positioned near a group that was protesting police brutality in front of police headquarters, was hit by a projectile thrown by an unknown, unidentified individual. The injured officer sued one of the event organizers, DeRay Mckesson, for more than $75,000, despite the fact that Mckesson engaged in no acts of violence and did not incite or condone violence by others.

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