Religious Rights & The Rutherford Institute

The Rutherford Institute, which exists to defend the eroding rights of Christians, is involved in many legal cases, of which the following are a recent sampling. Those wishing to contribute to the Rutherford Institute can designate gifts to EPM’s legal defense fund (100% of which will go to Rutherford), or mail them directly to the Rutherford Institute at P.O. Box 7482, Charlottesville, VA, 22906. Note that the last case, regarding the Lovejoy Abortion Clinic in Portland, Oregon, is one which involves Ron Norquist and myself (Randy Alcorn). We are grateful for the interest and help extended by the Rutherford Institute in this and other cases.

Family Threatened For Homeschooling

A family recently filed suit against public school officials of the Iosco Intermediate School District and the Michigan Department of Education, after school authorities threatened to bring action against them for home schooling, even after prior claims against the parents and children were dismissed.

According to papers filed on March 3, 1994, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, the Williams family of Hale, Mich., requests a temporary restraining order preventing school authorities from “further interfering in any manner with (their) fundamental right to home educate their children by the unlawful application of the Compulsory School Attendance Act.”

The controversy began in the summer of 1992, when Peggi and Bruce Williams decided to home school their two school-age children because the public school system had not provided Christian values and perspectives in education. The Williams notified school officials and filed the necessary forms that their children would not attend the local public school.

Despite these attempts to cooperate, the school district’s attendance officer subsequently contacted Peggi Williams, and then filed criminal truancy complaints against her, and petitions in the Iosco County Probate Court against the two children, Daniel and Clare, for delinquency.

Peggi Williams was arrested on March 9, 1993, and prosecuted for violation of the Michigan Compulsory School Attendance Act. The claims against Peggi Williams were dismissed on June 22, 1993. However, as stated in the lawsuit filed yesterday, “there remains (for the Williams) a threat of arrest and prosecution for home schooling.”

“The threat of police officers arresting law abiding parents in the dark of night is intolerable. While the highest court of this state resolved these issues last year, the school officials still rattle their sabers,” said a spokesperson for the Rutherford Institute.

Tracts on College Campus?

A student filed suit against Tarrant County Junior College, in Fort Worth, Texas, after college officials insisted he stop distributing religious tracts on campus.

“Our client was caught with contraband by school officials – only the contraband was not drugs or a gun but a religious tract to help Daniel share his faith with other students,” said John Neill, the Rutherford Institute attorney handling the case.

According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, student Daniel Lopez has a sincere religious conviction that he is to discuss his religious beliefs with his fellow students. Lopez speaks with students on campus “in a non-intrusive, non-confrontational manner,” and distributes a pamphlet of brief commentary and Bible verses he has prepared.

The controversy began on Aug. 20, 1993, when college officials notified Lopez that distributing the pamphlets violated the college’s student policy.

Officials told Lopez he would be subject to disciplinary sanctions if he continued handing out the pamphlets during his conversations with fellow students.

“Our country was founded on principles of religious liberty and free expression. Colleges and universities should be the first to understand the importance of these principles. We must be vigilant to fight all attempts to create zones of religious censorship in our schools,” said Kelly Shackelford, southwest regional coordinator for The Rutherford Institute.

Persecution of Chinese Christians

The Rutherford Institute has asked Chinese government official to reconsider their policy towards religious freedom in the People’s Republic of China.

In a letter to Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng Zongli, John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, protested the persecution of Chinese Christians who belong to “house” churches.

“In common with many legislators and other organizations I have been especially concerned by the recent implementation of a set of regulations signed into law on February 5 of this year, which further curtail the religious freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China,” wrote Whitehead.

According to the letter, if the provision of these February regulations are permitted to stand, religious freedom as guaranteed in the Chinese Constitution will become “nothing but a sham.” Continuation of these regulations would also cause speculation that recent efforts to improve conditions for Chinese citizens were little more than “subterfuges calculated to fool western nations” into special trade agreements with China.

“The torture and imprisonment of peaceful, law-abiding citizens by representatives of the government of a nation that places such a high value on respect for authority does nothing to promote respect and honor for China. These Christians are proud citizens of China, just as you are...They merely (wish to) exercise their fundamental human right to meet peaceably with those who share their faith,” wrote Whitehead.

The letter stated that if China wished to retain a place of honor in the international community, maintain its seat in the United Nations and continue trading with the nations of the world it could not continue to ignore its citizens basic human rights.

Utah License Plates

As the result of a lawsuit handled by The Rutherford Institute, the Utah State Tax Commission issued a religious license plate to a Utah woman. The commission stated it would revise its rules regarding the issuance of personalized license plates.

“If this decision stands for anything, it stands for the idea that expression of belief in God and adherence to his law is a matter for public debate and public expression and need not be relegated solely to the churches and private homes,” said Matt Hilton, the Rutherford Institute attorney handling the case.

The case began Dec. 3, 1993 when Katherine Bebout, of Ogden, Utah, filed a lawsuit against the Utah State Tax Commission and the Utah Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), after the DMV turned down her request for plate saying “THNXGOD.” The DMV stated that the plate might be offensive.

According to Hilton, the state allowed license plates referencing other deities, such as “ALLAH,” “KRISHNA,” and “LUCIFER,” but it would not allow a plate saying “THNXGOD.”

In a settlement letter signed yesterday, the Commission said it will amend its personalized plate policy, and allow The Rutherford Institute to provide input regarding the revised rules.

“The Rutherford Institute will be involved in developing a new policy that protects the ability of the state of Utah to stand up for moral and positive values without regulating free speech and religious expression.” said Hilton.

Lovejoy Case Petition to U.S. Supreme Court

The Rutherford Institute has filed a U.S. Supreme Court petition on behalf of Oregon prolife protesters fined for demonstrating.

According to attorney William Bailey, the Lovejoy abortion clinic brought the suit “to discourage the protesters’ political viewpoint.” A jury ruled against the totally peaceful protesters (including Ron Norquist and Randy Alcorn, now working with EPM), assessing punitive damages ranging from $200,000 to $500,000 each.

The premise of the Supreme Court petition for a writ of certiorari, according to Bailey, is that the First Amendment does not permit a jury to discourage a person’s political beliefs by assessing large punitive damages against protesters because the jury disagrees with the person’s political beliefs, particularly when the protesters did not cause any actual damage.

“It is clear that these enormous punitive damage awards were assessed by the jury to punish the defendants for their sincere, but unpopular, political and religious prolife beliefs. That, we think, is wrong in a free society,” Bailey said.

John W. Whitehead, president and founder of The Rutherford Institute, commented, “This kind of sanction was not used against Vietnam protesters or against the African-American civil rights protesters. I find it amazing that such punitive measures would be used against peaceful demonstrators now.”

The Rutherford Institute hopes the petition will encourage the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s large punitive damages ruling.

Shopping Mall Free Speech

Two teenagers and their youth pastor are suing a shopping mall in Denver after guards ordered them to leave because they were sharing their faith with customers.

“The shopping mall is generally open to the public and the public comes and goes, but for some reason these kids were told to leave when they were exercising their free speech rights in the common areas of the mall in a non-disruptive manner,” said Jim Rouse, the Rutherford Institute attorney handling the case.

According to the lawsuit filed in Denver District Court on Jan. 20, 1994, the teenagers were eighth graders involved in a “Warriors for Christ” seminar in which they were learning to share their faith with others. The lawsuit stated that the teenagers asked persons in the Cherry Creek Shopping Center if they could speak with them. If the person said “no,” the teenagers thanked them and moved on. If a person was interested in what the teenagers were saying, they spoke to them about Christ and occasionally handed out a tract.

The complaint asks the court to declare that the teenagers and the youth pastor have free speech rights under the Colorado constitution to share their faith with shoppers in the mall. The complaint also asks the court to stop the mall from enforcing its unconstitutional policy.

“This is an extremely important case for free speech rights in Colorado. Here are some teenagers who want to make a positive impact on society as opposed to being involved with drugs and gangs, and this is how they are treated,” said Rouse.