This article was first published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, May 6, 2015:
The record of the Rutherford Institute reflects the record, activities, and accomplishments of its founder, John W. Whitehead. Whitehead founded a pro-bono law firm in 1982, and has compiled a record of accomplishments in the freedom fight that is breathtaking in its scope.
The latest is a tiff between the city of Harrisonburg, Virginia and a small church that dared to post some pro-life posters on its fence. A disgruntled and offended resident complained, and the city sent a letter to the church threatening fines and jail terms to its officials if the posters weren’t removed.
Enter Whitehead: “Under the First Amendment, the government has no authority to pick and choose what type of speech it approves.” This parallels the quote from Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black that Whitehead posts on his institute’s website:
The very reason for the First Amendment is to make the people of this country free to think, speak, write, and worship as they wish, not as the Government commands.
Whitehead then sent a scathing letter to the city fathers, stating bluntly:
This kind of preference for banners that express certain messages and discrimination against banners that express other messages is precisely the kind of content-based regulation of speech the First Amendment prohibits.
Laws that by their terms distinguish favored speech from disfavored speech on the basis of ideas or view expressed are content-based and presumptively unconstitutional.
He included various court cases and other citations to back up his contention, which were enough to cause the Harrisonburg city attorney to back off.
Whitehead and his cohort of legal beagles have made quite a name for themselves over the years, and are currently contesting a high school’s demand that students wear RFID badges as part of its “student locator project.” It is challenging the detention of a former Marine for posting politically incorrect comments on his Facebook page. And they’ve been busy drafting model regulations to rein in the use of drones outfitted with tasers and teargas, and to prohibit governments from using data recorded by them in criminal prosecutions.
All of this is driven by a man whom Nat Hentoff calls “this nation’s Paul Revere of protecting civil liberties.” Whitehead has presented numerous amicus briefs before the Supreme Court, while serving as co-counsel in several landmark cases. His fifteen law reviews have appeared in journals across the political spectrum, from the Harvard Journal on Legislation to the Cumberland Law Review. He has written an astonishing 34 books, including two that were just released, Battlefield America and A Government of Wolves. He has appeared in three films, for which he received several awards.
In responding to the satisfactory resolution of the tiff between Harrisonburg and its local church, Whitehead said:
While we are pleased that Harrisonburg city officials were quick to set things right in this matter, this is merely one example out of hundreds of incidents taking place across the country in which speech and expressive activities that the government perceives as controversial, politically incorrect, or unpopular are criminalized, caged, censored, or silenced.
Whitehead (along with the institution that he founded and drives relentlessly today) is one remarkable man, but he is just one man and one man cannot do it all. What he is doing is setting an example for others equally concerned about the fate of freedom in America to follow.