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The Rutherford Institute - John W. Whitehead
John W. Whitehead, head of the Rutherford Institute, has gone to great
lengths to conceal the ideological leanings of his Christian Right legal
center in statements to the mass media. He told the New York Times that "Oh,
gosh, no," he had no political agenda in representing Paula Jones,
and that he had founded the Rutherford Institute by himself. The New
York Times reporter described The Rutherford Institute as "a kind
of evangelical Christian civil liberties union."118
Whitehead's claims misrepresent the group. Barry W. Lynn, executive director
of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is blunt, "Our
files on the Institute go back 10 years. After examining the material,
we can safely say Whitehead is not being honest in his description of his
From its founding, the Rutherford Institute has pursued a highly-politicized
ultra-conservative agenda. A review of Rutherford Institute newsletters,
reports, and direct mail appeals going back seven years shows a long pattern
of attacks on liberals in government and President Clinton in particular.
Whitehead consistently puts forward an apocalyptic conspiracist vision
of devout Christian activists under concerted attack by corrupt and repressive
government officials in the service of godless and immoral secular humanism.
In the late 1990s Whitehead claimed he had changed his earlier views,
giving a detailed interview on the subject to Christianity Today in
December of 1998.120 Yet Whitehead's
shift is more tactical rather than a shift in basic ideology, and reflects
the trend in the Christian Right toward re-applying the principle of "hating
the sin, but loving the sinner," even when the goal is still theocratic
From time to time Rutherford's periodical carries broad-based articles
to buttress the organization's claim that it is just like an American Civil
Liberties Union for people of faith. In the September 1996 issue, which
carries a cover story on "Politics & Religion: A Recipe for Disaster," there
are interviews with centrist political commentators such as E. J. Dionne,
Jr. and Larry Sabato-as well as a column by Barry W. Lynn of Americans
United for Separation of Church and State.
Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation, rounds out the
issue of Rutherford magazine with a litany of all the reasons he
hates government under Clinton and his liberal allies. Claiming that "Liberals
have dominated politics in this country for more than sixty years," Weyrich
paints a paranoid picture of life in the US where "God-fearing, law-abiding,
taxpaying citizens" live under a statist globalist tyranny. He then
concludes that a nation with a government that is in opposition to his
hard right view of Constitutional and godly laws, "will deserve the
hatred of God and its people."122
In Facing the Wrath: Confronting the Right in Dangerous Times,
sociologist Sara Diamond describes the political activism of the Rutherford
"Active since 1982, the Rutherford Institute
represents a variety of Christian `civil liberties' litigants, anti-abortion
demonstrators, students asked not to read Bibles at public schools,
parents whose home school facilities fail to meet government regulations.
No doubt, Christians deserve as much legal protection as anyone else.
But with much of the ACLJ and Rutherford case load, there's a fine
line between defending the interests of clients and stepping on the
rights of other people.
In a...commentary sent to Christian radio
stations, Rutherford Institute president John Whitehead argues that
workplace seminars on gay rights are a form of `religious discrimination'
against employees who are `told to rid themselves of stereotypes about
gays and to accept homosexuality as a valid lifestyle choice.'
In an odd assertion of victim status, Whitehead
claims Christian military personnel may jeopardize their careers if
they `speak out against homosexuality....The immediate remedy is for
the military to exempt religious people from compelled personal acceptance
The politics of the Rutherford Institute, at least until recently, represented
a form of theocratic Christianity that characterizes the hard right of
the evangelical world. There is little reason to believe that a change
in tone means a change in the underlying philosophy.
118 Neil A. Lewis, "Group Behind Paula Jones
Gains Critics as Well as Fame," New York Times, 1/18/98, p.
119 Americans United for Separation of Church
and State, "Rutherford Institute, Other Religious Right Groups Have
Long Track Record Of Vicious Attacks On Bill And Hillary Clinton, Says
Church-State Watchdog Group," News Media Backgrounder, January 1988.
120 Ted Olsen, "The Dragon Slayer," Christianity
Today, Dec. 7, 1998, pp. 36-42.
121 John Whitehead, "Point of View" column, Action,
Rutherford Institute newsletter, August 1996.
122 Paul Weyrich, "Fear & Oppression:
American Birthright?" perspective, Rutherford magazine, August
1995, p. 16.
123 Sara Diamond, Facing the Wrath: Confronting
the Right in Dangerous Times, (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press,
1996), pp. 110-111.
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