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Cash-strapped Rutherford helps Paula Jones sue President Clinton.

A Virginia-based Religious Right legal group that claims to advocate religious freedom has shifted gears and added a new client: Paula Jones, the Arkansas woman who is suing President Bill Clinton for alleged sexual harassment.

John Whitehead, founder and president of the Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville, says Jones' case deals with basic human rights. Critics charge he's jumping on the anti-Clinton bandwagon to raise money.

Jones claims that Clinton made sexual overtures and exposed himself to her in a Little Rock hotel room in 1991. Clinton has denied her allegations. Jones' original lawyers dropped out of the case after a disagreement over a proposed settlement.

Founded in 1982, the Rutherford Institute has until now focused on a variety of Religious Right causes, arguing in court for greater interaction between religion and government. Whitehead, an opponent of church-state separation, once penned a book titled The Separation Illusion that attacks the constitutional principle.

Whitehead estimates that the Institute will spend $200,000 defending Jones, and, although he insisted he had not taken the case to raise money among right wingers who hate the president, the group wasted no time issuing a solicitation letter.

The letter, which bears Jones' signature, comes in a pink envelope bearing the words "An important message from Paula Jones about her case against Bill Clinton." In the letter Jones says the Institute has come to her defense because the group believes "that a woman has a right - a human and constitutional right - to be free from sexual harassment."

"I've followed the work of The Rutherford Institute and know that these dedicated people are only able to protect the rights God gave us because of the generous donations of those like you who believe our freedoms must be defended, whatever the cost," reads the Jones letter.

In a separate short note, Whitehead appeals for funds, writing, "This case is not about politics, it's about a woman's fundamental human and constitutional right to be free from sexual harassment. We must remember that all rights hang together - if one freedom is violated, they all are, including religious freedom."

A description of Jones' case also appeared in a separate Institute fundraising letter mailed in November. In shrill tones, Whitehead begs for contributions, claiming he may have to shut down the Institute unless more money comes in.

"You know that I don't like having to write this type of letter - and I certainly don't want our enemies to know the seriousness of the situation facing us," observed Whitehead. "But the honest truth is: expected donations have not come in this past year, and our budget has not been met. If The Rutherford Institute is to survive and keep our doors open - I must hear from friends like you immediately."

Although Whitehead has undoubtedly overstated the case, the rhetoric may not be completely inaccurate. The Institute, which has a staff of 50 and an annual budget of $6 million, closed two satellite offices last year.

Despite the Institute's claimed financial woes, its attorneys found time recently to meddle in a church-state case from Germany. The group filed a brief before the Supreme Court of Bavaria, Germany, urging the court to permit the display of crucifixes in public schools. The brief attacked the U.S. Supreme Court's church-state decisions. Noted an Institute summary of the brief, "The Institute's brief notes its experience with a tide of secularization in the U.S. through the American court system - from an attitude of pro-religious activity to neutrality to current overt hostility - a trend which it hopes Germany will avoid."

Germany, however, would hardly seem to be a model of religious freedom. The country imposes a church tax on its citizens and restricts religions it considers "cults."
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Publication:Church & State
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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