Rutherford Institute

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The Rutherford Institute is an organization established to provide legal asistance to right-wing and conservative causes. Described as a "resource center" in its own literature, the Rutherford Institute was formed in 1982 by attorney John W. Whitehead. It has long-standing ties to the radical fringes of Christian fundamentalism, although in recent years it has sought to distance itself from those influences, as it has moderated its views and broadened its scope of operations beyond purely religious and right-wing issues — going so far as to file amicus briefs alongside the ACLU in Rumsfeld v. Padilla.



In the wake of his 1981 book The Second American Revolution, which argued for political and judicial activism on the part of conservative Christians, John W. Whitehead founded The Rutherford Institute in the basement of his home. He named the institute after Samuel Rutherford, a 17th century Scottish theologian who argued, in a 1644 pamphlet cleverly titled Lex, Rex, that kings must be subordinate to the law, because the rule of kings is derived from men, whereas the rule of law is derived from God. Rutherford's arguments about the authority of kings were quite influential in the development of the concept of the "social contract" by later philosophers such as Locke and Rousseau.

Early members of the Rutherford Foundation's board of directors included California millionaire Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr., as well as prominent fundamentalist activists such as Francis Schaeffer and R.J. Rushdoony of The Chalcedon Foundation, a West Coast Christian think tank in which the Christian Reconstructionist Movement was born forty years ago. The early activities of the Rutherford Institute reflected this, and tended to focus on cases involving public primary and secondary education. They were especially active and often successful in trying to stop condom distribution in public schools, as well as sex education, AIDS prevention programs, and programs that teach tolerance.

Within a few years, Whitehead had begun to move away from the Christian Reconstructionist Movement, disassociating himself from some organizations, such as the Coalition on Revival, and broadening the scope of the Rutherford Foundation's interests.

The Rutherford Foundation became widely known to the public at large with the Paula Jones lawsuit agaist Bill Clinton, which the foundation backed, with Whitehead acting as co-counsel. In recent years, however, the Rutherford Foundation has continued to move towards being a mainstream constitutional legal advocacy organization, often seeming to disagree with the likes of the ACLU on little more than the precise boundaries of the Establishment Clause. In addition to their aforementioned brief in the José Padilla case, they have taken a strong stand in opposition to the Patriot Act, argued that Yaser Hamdi deserved due process, opposed student drug testing, and represented Lt. Col Martha McSally in her suit challenging the military policy which required servicewomen stationed in Saudi Arabia to wear the body-covering abaya when travelling in the country. Perhaps most surprisingly, to those who are primarily familiar with the early years of the Foundation, editorials on their web site were generally in favor of the Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas.

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Contact informaiton

Rutherford Institute
P.O. Box 7482
Charlottesville, VA 22906-7482

Ph. (434) 978-3888
Fax (434) 978-1879


External links

  • Rutherford Institute - SourceWatch - Information on the Rutherford Institute from SourceWatch
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