HOUSTON COUNTY, Ala. — Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute are urging the Houston County Sheriff’s Office to reconsider its decision to remove “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” decals from police department vehicles. Sheriff Valenza removed the decals after being threatened with lawsuits and accused of violating the Establishment Clause’s so-called “separation of church and state.” In coming to the sheriff’s defense, constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead pointed out that groups which operate on a strictly separatist notion that any reference to religion must be purged from public life are misguided in their understanding of the First Amendment’s protections for free speech and religious expression. The Rutherford Institute has also offered the Sheriff’s Department assistance in defending against any challenges that might arise from resuming their lawful display of what Whitehead describes as “a universal message of peace” on government vehicles.

“At a time when public trust in law enforcement is eroding due to repeated reports of excessive use of force against unarmed citizens, the message of peace conveyed by the ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ decal is a welcome and timely reminder that law enforcement officers are first and foremost peace officers and that this particular police agency is dedicated to preserving the peace,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Indeed, this message of peace is not exclusive to the Christian religion. Nor is the sentiment exclusively religious. In fact, the words of the decal convey a universal sentiment that has been echoed repeatedly by other leaders, religious, secular and otherwise, including the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, John Lennon, Martin Luther King Jr., and Albert Einstein, to name a few.”

In early July 2015, square-shaped decals were affixed to the back of Houston County Sheriff’s Office vehicles depicting a badge and proclaiming “Blessed are the peacemakers” with Matthew 5:9 referenced below the badge. The sheriff’s office was subsequently contacted by two organizations, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which reportedly threatened lawsuits over the display of the “Peacemakers” decals, insisting that they violate the so-called “separation of church and state.” Warned that if the county did not remove the decals, it would have to pay for any legal expenses incurred from a lawsuit on its own, Sheriff Donald Valenza opted to remove the decals, which cost $1.60 each. In urging the Sheriff to reconsider his decision and offering the organization’s assistance, The Rutherford Institute provided a legal analysis supporting the view that the decals serve a clear secular purpose—to reinforce the sheriff’s department’s commitment to peaceful enforcement of the law—and are as legally defensible as nonsectarian prayers at legislative meetings, Ten Commandments monuments on public property, and the inscription of “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency.


“You gotta remember, establishment, it’s just a name for evil. The monster doesn’t care whether it kills all the students or whether there’s a revolution. It’s not thinking logically, it’s out of control.”—John Lennon (1969)

John Lennon, born 75 years ago on October 9, 1940, was a musical genius and pop cultural icon.

He was also a vocal peace protester and anti-war activist and a high-profile example of the lengths to which the U.S. government will go to persecute those who dare to challenge its authority.

Long before Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden were being castigated for blowing the whistle on the government’s war crimes and the National Security Agency’s abuse of its surveillance powers, it was Lennon who was being singled out for daring to speak truth to power about the government’s warmongering, his phone calls monitored and data files collected on his activities and associations.

For a little while, at least, Lennon became enemy number one in the eyes of the U.S. government.

Years after Lennon’s assassination it would be revealed that the FBI had collected 281 pages of files on him, including song lyrics, a letter from J. Edgar Hoover directing the agency to spy on the musician, and various written orders calling on government agents to set the stage to set Lennon up for a drug bust. As reporter Jonathan Curiel observes, “The FBI’s files on Lennon … read like the writings of a paranoid goody-two-shoes.”

As the New York Times notes, “Critics of today’s domestic surveillance object largely on privacy grounds. They have focused far less on how easily government surveillance can become an instrument for the people in power to try to hold on to power. ‘The U.S. vs. John Lennon’ … is the story not only of one man being harassed, but of a democracy being undermined.”

Battlefield_Cover_300Indeed, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, all of the many complaints we have about government today—surveillance, militarism, corruption, harassment, SWAT team raids, political persecution, spying, overcriminalization, etc.—were present in Lennon’s day and formed the basis of his call for social justice, peace and a populist revolution.

For all of these reasons, the U.S. government was obsessed with Lennon, who had learned early on that rock music could serve a political end by proclaiming a radical message. More importantly, Lennon saw that his music could mobilize the public and help to bring about change. Lennon believed in the power of the people. Unfortunately, as Lennon recognized: “The trouble with government as it is, is that it doesn’t represent the people. It controls them.”

However, as Martin Lewis writing for Time notes: “John Lennon was not God. But he earned the love and admiration of his generation by creating a huge body of work that inspired and led. The appreciation for him deepened because he then instinctively decided to use his celebrity as a bully pulpit for causes greater than his own enrichment or self-aggrandizement.”

For instance, in December 1971 at a concert in Ann Arbor, Mich., Lennon took to the stage and in his usual confrontational style belted out “John Sinclair,” a song he had written about a man sentenced to 10 years in prison for possessing two marijuana cigarettes. Within days of Lennon’s call for action, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered Sinclair released.

What Lennon did not know at the time was that government officials had been keeping strict tabs on the ex-Beatle they referred to as “Mr. Lennon.” FBI agents were in the audience at the Ann Arbor concert, “taking notes on everything from the attendance (15,000) to the artistic merits of his new song.”

The U.S. government was spying on Lennon.

By March 1971, when his “Power to the People” single was released, it was clear where Lennon stood. Having moved to New York City that same year, Lennon was ready to participate in political activism against the U. S. government, the “monster” that was financing the war in Vietnam.

The release of Lennon’s Sometime in New York City album, which contained a radical anti-government message in virtually every song and depicted President Richard Nixon and Chinese Chairman Mao Tse-tung dancing together nude on the cover, only fanned the flames of the conflict to come.

The official U.S. war against Lennon began in earnest in 1972 after rumors surfaced that Lennon planned to embark on a U.S. concert tour that would combine rock music with antiwar organizing and voter registration. Nixon, fearing Lennon’s influence on about 11 million new voters (1972 was the first year that 18-year-olds could vote), had the ex-Beatle served with deportation orders “in an effort to silence him as a voice of the peace movement.”

Then again, the FBI has had a long history of persecuting, prosecuting and generally harassing activists, politicians, and cultural figures, most notably among the latter such celebrated names as folk singer Pete Seeger, painter Pablo Picasso, comic actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin, comedian Lenny Bruce and poet Allen Ginsberg.

Among those most closely watched by the FBI was Martin Luther King Jr., a man labeled by the FBI as “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country.” With wiretaps and electronic bugs planted in his home and office, King was kept under constant surveillance by the FBI with the aim of “neutralizing” him. He even received letters written by FBI agents suggesting that he either commit suicide or the details of his private life would be revealed to the public. The FBI kept up its pursuit of King until he was felled by a hollow-point bullet to the head in 1968.

While Lennon was not—as far as we know—being blackmailed into suicide, he was the subject of a four-year campaign of surveillance and harassment by the U.S. government (spearheaded by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover), an attempt by President Richard Nixon to have him “neutralized” and deported. As Adam Cohen of the New York Times points out, “The F.B.I.’s surveillance of Lennon is a reminder of how easily domestic spying can become unmoored from any legitimate law enforcement purpose. What is more surprising, and ultimately more unsettling, is the degree to which the surveillance turns out to have been intertwined with electoral politics.”

As Lennon’s FBI file shows, memos and reports about the FBI’s surveillance of the anti-war activist had been flying back and forth between Hoover, the Nixon White House, various senators, the FBI and the U.S. Immigration Office.

Nixon’s pursuit of Lennon was relentless and in large part based on the misperception that Lennon and his comrades were planning to disrupt the 1972 Republican National Convention. The government’s paranoia, however, was misplaced.

Left-wing activists who were on government watch lists and who shared an interest in bringing down the Nixon Administration had been congregating at Lennon’s New York apartment. But when they revealed that they were planning to cause a riot, Lennon balked. As he recounted in a 1980 interview, “We said, We ain’t buying this. We’re not going to draw children into a situation to create violence so you can overthrow what? And replace it with what? . . . It was all based on this illusion, that you can create violence and overthrow what is, and get communism or get some right-wing lunatic or a left-wing lunatic. They’re all lunatics.”

Despite the fact that Lennon was not part of the “lunatic” plot, the government persisted in its efforts to have him deported. Equally determined to resist, Lennon dug in and fought back. Every time he was ordered out of the country, his lawyers delayed the process by filing an appeal. Finally, in 1976, Lennon won the battle to stay in the country when he was granted a green card. As he said afterwards, “I have a love for this country…. This is where the action is. I think we’ll just go home, open a tea bag, and look at each other.”

Lennon’s time of repose didn’t last long, however. By 1980, he had re-emerged with a new album and plans to become politically active again.

The old radical was back and ready to cause trouble. In his final interview on Dec. 8, 1980, Lennon mused, “The whole map’s changed and we’re going into an unknown future, but we’re still all here, and while there’s life there’s hope.”

That very night, when Lennon returned to his New York apartment building, Mark David Chapman was waiting in the shadows. As Lennon stepped outside the car to greet the fans congregating outside, Chapman, in an eerie echo of the FBI’s moniker for Lennon, called out, “Mr. Lennon!”

Lennon turned and was met with a barrage of gunfire as Chapman—dropping into a two-handed combat stance—emptied his .38-caliber pistol and pumped four hollow-point bullets into his back and left arm. Lennon stumbled, staggered forward and, with blood pouring from his mouth and chest, collapsed to the ground.

John Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. He had finally been “neutralized.”

Yet where those who neutralized the likes of John Lennon, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy and others go wrong is in believing that you can murder a movement with a bullet and a madman.

Thankfully, Lennon’s legacy lives on in his words, his music and his efforts to speak truth to power. As Yoko Ono shared in a 2014 letter to the parole board tasked with determining whether Chapman should be released: “A man of humble origin, [John Lennon] brought light and hope to the whole world with his words and music. He tried to be a good power for the world, and he was. He gave encouragement, inspiration and dreams to people regardless of their race, creed and gender.”

Sadly, not much has changed for the better in the world since Lennon walked among us. Peace remains out of reach. Activism and whistleblowers continue to be prosecuted for challenging the government’s authority. Militarism is on the rise, with police acquiring armed drones, all the while the governmental war machine continues to wreak havoc on innocent lives. Just recently, for example, U.S. military forces carried out airstrikes in Afghanistan that left a Doctors without Borders hospital in ruins, killing several of its medical personnel and patients, including children.

For those of us who joined with John Lennon to imagine a world of peace, it’s getting harder to reconcile that dream with the reality of the American police state. For those who do dare to speak up, they are labeled dissidents, troublemakers, terrorists, lunatics, or mentally ill and tagged for surveillance, censorship or, worse, involuntary detention.

As Lennon shared in a 1968 interview:

“I think all our society is run by insane people for insane objectives… I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal means. If anybody can put on paper what our government and the American government and the Russian… Chinese… what they are actually trying to do, and what they think they’re doing, I’d be very pleased to know what they think they’re doing. I think they’re all insane. But I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.”

So what’s the answer?

Lennon had a multitude of suggestions.

“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.”

“Produce your own dream. If you want to save Peru, go save Peru. It’s quite possible to do anything, but not to put it on the leaders….You have to do it yourself. That’s what the great masters and mistresses have been saying ever since time began. They can point the way, leave signposts and little instructions in various books that are now called holy and worshipped for the cover of the book and not for what it says, but the instructions are all there for all to see, have always been and always will be. There’s nothing new under the sun. All the roads lead to Rome. And people cannot provide it for you. I can’t wake you up. You can wake you up. I can’t cure you. You can cure you.”

“Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friends.”

“Peace is not something you wish for; It’s something you make, Something you do, Something you are, And something you give away.”

“If you want peace, you won’t get it with violence.”

“Say you want a revolution / We better get on right away / Well you get on your feet / And out on the street / Singing power to the people.”

And my favorite advice of all: “All you need is love. Love is all you need.”

“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk: culture-death is a clear possibility.”—Author Neil Postman

Caught up in the spectacle of the forthcoming 2016 presidential elections, Americans (never very good when it comes to long-term memory) have not only largely forgotten last year’s hullabaloo over militarized police, police shootings of unarmed citizens, asset forfeiture schemes, and government surveillance but are also generally foggy about everything that has happened since.

Then again, so much is happening on a daily basis that it’s understandable if the average American has a hard time keeping up with and remembering all of the “events,” manufactured or otherwise, which occur like clockwork and keep us distracted, deluded, amused, and insulated from reality while the government continues to amass more power and authority over the citizenry.

In fact, when we’re being bombarded with wall-to-wall news coverage and news cycles that change every few days, it’s difficult to stay focused on one thing—namely, holding the government accountable to abiding by the rule of law—and the powers-that-be understand this. As investigative journalist Mike Adams points out:

This psychological bombardment is waged primarily via the mainstream media which assaults the viewer by the hour with images of violence, war, emotions and conflict. Because the human nervous system is hard wired to focus on immediate threats accompanied by depictions of violence, mainstream media viewers have their attention and mental resources funneled into the never-ending ‘crisis of the NOW’ from which they can never have the mental breathing room to apply logic, reason or historical context.

Consider if you will the regularly scheduled trivia and/or distractions in the past year alone that have kept us tuned into the various breaking news headlines and entertainment spectacles and tuned out to the government’s steady encroachments on our freedoms:

Americans were riveted when the Republican presidential contenders went head-to-head for the second time in a three-hour debate that put Carly Fiorina in a favored position behind Donald Trump; Hillary Clinton presented the softer side of her campaign image during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon; scientists announced the discovery of what they believed to be a new pre-human species, Homo naledi, that existed 2.8 million years ago; an 8.3 magnitude earthquake hit Chile; massive wildfires burned through 73,000 acres in California; a district court judge reversed NFL player Tom Brady’s four-game suspension; tennis superstar Serena Williams lost her chance at a calendar grand slam; and President Obama and Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg tweeted their support for a Texas student arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school.

That was preceded by the first round of the Republican presidential debates; an immigration crisis in Europe; the relaxing of Cuba-U.S. relations; the first two women soldiers graduating from Army Ranger course; and three Americans being hailed as heroes for thwarting a train attack in France. Before that, there was the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse; shootings at a military recruiting center in Tennessee and a movie theater in Louisiana; the Boy Scouts’ decision to end its ban on gay adult leaders; the first images sent by the New Horizons spacecraft of Pluto; and the victory over Japan of the U.S. in the Women’s World Cup soccer finals.

No less traumatic and distracting were the preceding months’ newsworthy events, which included a shooting at a Charleston, S.C., church; the trial and sentencing of Boston Marathon bomber suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; the U.S. Supreme Court’s affirmation of same-sex marriage, Obamacare, lethal injection drugs and government censorship of Confederate flag license plates; and an Amtrak train crash in Philadelphia that left more than 200 injured and eight dead.

Also included in the mix of distressing news coverage was the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray while in police custody and the subsequent riots in Baltimore and city-wide lockdown; the damning report by the Dept. of Justice into discriminatory and abusive practices by the Ferguson police department; the ongoing saga of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account while serving as secretary of state; the apparently deliberate crash by a copilot of a German jetliner in the French Alps, killing all 150 passengers and crew; the New England Patriots’ fourth Super Bowl win; a measles outbreak in Disneyland; the escalating tensions between New York police and Mayor Bill de Blasio over his seeming support for anti-police protesters; and a terror attack at the Paris office of satire magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Rounding out the year’s worth of headline-worthy new stories were protests over grand jury refusals to charge police for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown; the disappearance of an AirAsia flight over the Java Sea; an Ebola outbreak that results in several victims being transported to the U.S. for treatment; reports of domestic violence among NFL players; a security breach at the White House in which a man managed to jump the fence, cross the lawn and enter the main residence; and the reported beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff by ISIS.

That doesn’t even begin to touch on the spate of entertainment news that tends to win the battle for Americans’ attention: Bruce Jenner’s transgender transformation to Caitlyn Jenner; the death of Whitney Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown; Kim Kardashian’s “break the internet” nude derriere photo; sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby; the suicide of Robin Williams; the cancellation of the comedy The Interview in movie theaters after alleged terror hack threats; the wedding of George Clooney to Amal Alamuddin; the wedding of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt; the ALS ice bucket challenge; and the birth of a baby girl to Prince William and Kate.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, these sleight-of-hand distractions, diversions and news spectacles are how the corporate elite controls a population by entrapping them in the “crisis of the NOW,” either inadvertently or intentionally, advancing their agenda without much opposition from the citizenry.

Professor Jacques Ellul studied this phenomenon of overwhelming news, short memories and the use of propaganda to advance hidden agendas. “One thought drives away another; old facts are chased by new ones,” wrote Ellul.

“Under these conditions there can be no thought. And, in fact, modern man does not think about current problems; he feels them. He reacts, but he does not understand them any more than he takes responsibility for them. He is even less capable of spotting any inconsistency between successive facts; man’s capacity to forget is unlimited. This is one of the most important and useful points for the propagandists, who can always be sure that a particular propaganda theme, statement, or event will be forgotten within a few weeks.”

But what exactly has the government (aided and abetted by the mainstream media) been doing while we’ve been so cooperatively fixated on whatever current sensation happens to be monopolizing the so-called “news” shows?

If properly disclosed, consistently reported on and properly digested by the citizenry, the sheer volume of the government’s activities, which undermine the Constitution and in many instances are outright illegal, would inevitably give rise to a sea change in how business is conducted in our seats of power.

Surely Americans would be concerned about the Obama administration’s plans to use behavioral science tactics to “nudge” citizens to comply with the government’s public policy and program initiatives? There would be no end to the uproar if Americans understood the ramifications of the government’s plan to train non-medical personnel—teachers, counselors and other lay people—in “mental first aid” in order to train them to screen, identify and report individuals suspected of suffering from mental illness. The problem, of course, arises when these very same mental health screeners misdiagnose opinions or behavior involving lawful First Amendment activities as a mental illness, resulting in involuntary detentions in psychiatric wards for the unfortunate victims.

Parents would be livid if they had any inkling about the school-to-prison pipeline, namely, how the public schools are being transformed from institutions of learning to prison-like factories, complete with armed police and surveillance cameras, aimed at churning out compliant test-takers rather than independent-minded citizens. And once those same young people reach college, they will be indoctrinated into believing that they have a “right” to be free from acts and expressions of intolerance with which they might disagree.

Concerned citizens should be up in arms over the government’s end-run tactics to avoid abiding by the rule of law, whether by outsourcing illegal surveillance activities to defense contractors, outsourcing inhumane torture to foreign countries, causing American citizens to disappear into secret interrogation facilities, or establishing policies that would allow the military to indefinitely detain any citizen—including journalists—considered a belligerent or enemy.

And one would hope American citizens would be incensed about being treated like prisoners in an electronic concentration camp, their every movement monitored, tracked and recorded by a growing government surveillance network that runs the gamut from traffic cameras and police body cameras to facial recognition software. Or outraged that we will be forced to fund a $93 billion drone industry that will be used to spy on our movements and activities, not to mention the fact that private prisons are getting rich (on our taxpayer dollars) by locking up infants, toddlers, children and pregnant women?

Unfortunately, while 71% of American voters are “dissatisfied” with the way things are going in the United States, that discontent has yet to bring about any significant changes in the government, nor has it caused the citizenry to get any more involved in their government beyond the ritualistic election day vote.

Professor Morris Berman suggests that the problems plaguing us as a nation—particularly as they relate to the government—have less to do with our inattention to corruption than our sanctioning, tacit or not, of such activities. “It seems to me,” writes Berman, “that the people do get the government they deserve, and even beyond that, the government who they are, so to speak.”

In other words, if we end up with a militarized police state, it will largely be because we welcomed it with open arms. In fact, according to a recent poll, almost a third of Americans would support a military coup “to take control from a civilian government which is beginning to violate the constitution.”

So where does that leave us?

As legendary television journalist Edward R. Murrow warned, “Unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.”


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — In recognition of Constitution Day, Sept. 17, the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, The Rutherford Institute is calling on all Americans to read the document that one historian described as “the owners’ manual to the greatest form of government the world has ever known.” Institute president John W. Whitehead is also challenging all of the presidential candidates to take a test in order to qualify for office proving that they have a working knowledge of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

“Thomas Jefferson once said that ‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.’ That vigilance must begin with an understanding of the rights enshrined in our Constitution—especially the Bill of Rights,” stated constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield American: The War on the American People. “Only by understanding what our rights are can we hope to safeguard them for future generations. All Americans, from the smallest student right up to the president of the United States of America (including president hopefuls), need to read the Constitution at least once in their lives. Government leaders should read it at least once a year.”

Surveys illustrate the need to better educate the public about their constitutional rights. For example, one survey that was commissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation found that nearly three-fourths of high school students either do not know how they feel about the First Amendment or admit they take it for granted. Another survey commissioned by the First Amendment Center reported that when asked to name specific rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, only 20% of those surveyed named freedom of religion, while 16% named freedom of the press. A survey by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that fewer than one percent of adults could identify the five rights protected by the First Amendment (freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly and the right to petition the government). Although half could name none of the freedoms in the First Amendment, a majority (54%) could name at least one of the three judges on the TV program American Idol, 41% could name two, and one-fourth could name all three. Moreover, 21% said the “right to own a pet” was listed someplace between “Congress shall make no law” and “redress of grievances.” Some 17% said that the First Amendment contained the “right to drive a car,” and 38% believed that “taking the Fifth” was part of the First Amendment.

According to the Harris Poll, fewer than half of Americans can correctly identify the meaning of separation of powers; more than one in five identified the three branches of government as Republican, Democrat and Independent; and nearly 30 percent said they believe the judicial branch advises the president and Congress about the legality of an action before they take it. Yet as Whitehead pointed out in congressional testimony, “The Constitution provides us with the blueprint for maintaining a balanced republic, and it must always be the starting point. Each of us, from public officials to citizens, has an affirmative duty to hold our government accountable. In the end, it is still ‘we the people’ who hold the ultimate power, and with it the concomitant responsibility, to maintain our freedoms.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Arguing that the First Amendment forbids the government from dictating what citizens should say, whom they should support or with whom they should associate, The Rutherford Institute has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn existing law that allows unions to require public-sector employees to subsidize political activities undertaken by the union.

In an amicus curiae brief filed with the Court in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, Rutherford Institute attorneys are challenging laws in California and elsewhere that require public employees who do not wish to support a union’s political activities to affirmatively file an “opt out,” thereby violating the employee’s right to keep his views private. Moreover, as the brief argues, such laws violate the First Amendment’s prohibitions against the government compelling speech by forcing members to financially support political activities they do not agree with and requiring employees to affirmatively opt out in order to recover back payments to the union deducted from their paychecks without their consent.

“The right to hold a position that is neither yea nor nay carries with it a concomitant right not to be perceived as taking sides. This right is both a speech right and a privacy right,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “As Thomas Jefferson recognized, ‘to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.’”

In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a public employee can be required to pay dues to unions that represent bargaining units the employee belongs to even if the employee does not wish to belong to the union and does not support political activities or positions of the union. However, the Court also established that the First Amendment forbids the union from using dues from an unconsenting public employee to support political causes the employee objects to and required unions to refund the portion of dues used for political activities (as opposed to collective bargaining activities) to an employee who requests such a refund. California law allows local public school districts to require teachers and other employees to either belong to a union that represents the employees in collective bargaining and pay union dues or pay a “fair share service” fee equivalent to the union dues. This fair share fee is in turn divided into chargeable and nonchargeable amounts, the latter representing the amount attributable to union activities not germane to its function as a collective bargaining representative.

In order for an employee to protect his or her First Amendment right not to subsidize a union’s “nonchargeable” activities, the employee must affirmatively opt out of supporting those activities to obtain a rebate of those monies, and must do so each year regardless of whether an opt out was filed the previous year. In 2013, teachers subject to the mandatory “fair share” payment and opt out requirement filed a federal court lawsuit alleging that the First Amendment is violated by forcing them to financially support unions engaged in quintessentially political activities or requiring them to take affirmative steps to withhold support from the unions. The teachers cited more recent Supreme Court precedent undermining its previous ruling that forced payments to public employee unions do not violate the First Amendment rights of unconsenting employees. After the teachers’ claims were denied in the lower courts, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in June 2015.

Affiliate attorneys Alicia Hickok and Chanda A. Miller of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP assisted The Rutherford Institute in advancing the arguments in the amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court.


Click here to read The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

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“Every day in communities across the United States, children and adolescents spend the majority of their waking hours in schools that have increasingly come to resemble places of detention more than places of learning. From metal detectors to drug tests, from increased policing to all-seeing electronic surveillance, the public schools of the twenty-first century reflect a society that has become fixated on crime, security and violence.”—Investigative journalist Annette Fuentes

In the American police state, you’re either a prisoner (shackled, controlled, monitored, ordered about, limited in what you can do and say, your life not your own) or a prison bureaucrat (police officer, judge, jailer, spy, profiteer, etc.).

Indeed, at a time when we are all viewed as suspects, there are so many ways in which a person can be branded a criminal for violating any number of laws, regulations or policies. Even if you haven’t knowingly violated any laws, there is still a myriad of ways in which you can run afoul of the police state and end up on the wrong side of a jail cell.

Unfortunately, when you’re a child in the American police state, life is that much worse.

Microcosms of the police state, America’s public schools contain almost every aspect of the militarized, intolerant, senseless, overcriminalized, legalistic, surveillance-riddled, totalitarian landscape that plagues those of us on the “outside.”

From the moment a child enters one of the nation’s 98,000 public schools to the moment she graduates, she will be exposed to a steady diet of draconian zero tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior, overreaching anti-bullying statutes that criminalize speech, school resource officers (police) tasked with disciplining and/or arresting so-called “disorderly” students, standardized testing that emphasizes rote answers over critical thinking, politically correct mindsets that teach young people to censor themselves and those around them, and extensive biometric and surveillance systems that, coupled with the rest, acclimate young people to a world in which they have no freedom of thought, speech or movement.

If your child is fortunate enough to survive his encounter with the public schools, you should count yourself fortunate.

Most students are not so lucky.

By the time the average young person in America finishes their public school education, nearly one out of every three of them will have been arrested.

More than 3 million students are suspended or expelled from schools every year, often for minor misbehavior, such as “disruptive behavior” or “insubordination.” Black students are three times more likely than white students to face suspension and expulsion.

For instance, a Virginia sixth grader, the son of two school teachers and a member of the school’s gifted program, was suspended for a year after school officials found a leaf (likely a maple leaf) in his backpack that they suspected was marijuana. Despite the fact that the leaf in question was not marijuana (a fact that officials knew almost immediately), the 11-year-old was still kicked out of school, charged with marijuana possession in juvenile court, enrolled in an alternative school away from his friends, subjected to twice-daily searches for drugs, and forced to be evaluated for substance abuse problems.

As the Washington Post warns: “It doesn’t matter if your son or daughter brings a real pot leaf to school, or if he brings something that looks like a pot leaf—okra, tomato, maple, buckeye, etc. If your kid calls it marijuana as a joke, or if another kid thinks it might be marijuana, that’s grounds for expulsion.”

Many state laws require that schools notify law enforcement whenever a student is found with an “imitation controlled substance,” basically anything that look likes a drug but isn’t actually illegal. As a result, students have been suspended for bringing to school household spices such as oregano, breath mints, birth control pills and powdered sugar.

It’s not just look-alike drugs that can get a student in trouble under school zero tolerance policies. Look-alike weapons (toy guns—even Lego-sized ones, hand-drawn pictures of guns, pencils twirled in a “threatening” manner, imaginary bows and arrows, even fingers positioned like guns) can also land a student in detention.

Acts of kindness, concern or basic manners can also result in suspensions. One 13-year-old was given detention for exposing the school to “liability” by sharing his lunch with a hungry friend. A third grader was suspended for shaving her head in sympathy for a friend who had lost her hair to chemotherapy. And then there was the high school senior who was suspended for saying “bless you” after a fellow classmate sneezed.

Unfortunately, while these may appear to be isolated incidents, they are indicative of a nationwide phenomenon in which children are treated like suspects and criminals, especially within the public schools.

The schools have become a microcosm of the American police state, right down to the host of surveillance technologies, including video cameras, finger and palm scanners, iris scanners, as well as RFID and GPS tracking devices, employed to keep constant watch over their student bodies.

Making matters worse are the police.

Students accused of being disorderly or noncompliant have a difficult enough time navigating the bureaucracy of school boards, but when you bring the police into the picture, after-school detention and visits to the principal’s office are transformed into punishments such as misdemeanor tickets, juvenile court, handcuffs, tasers and even prison terms.

In the absence of school-appropriate guidelines, police are more and more “stepping in to deal with minor rulebreaking—sagging pants, disrespectful comments, brief physical skirmishes. What previously might have resulted in a detention or a visit to the principal’s office was replaced with excruciating pain and temporary blindness, often followed by a trip to the courthouse.”

Thanks to a combination of media hype, political pandering and financial incentives, the use of armed police officers to patrol school hallways has risen dramatically in the years since the Columbine school shooting (nearly 20,000 by 2003). Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, these school resource officers (SROs) have become de facto wardens in the elementary, middle and high schools, doling out their own brand of justice to the so-called “criminals” in their midst with the help of tasers, pepperspray, batons and brute force.

The horror stories are legion.

One SRO is accused of punching a 13-year-old student in the face for cutting the cafeteria line. That same cop put another student in a chokehold a week later, allegedly knocking the student unconscious and causing a brain injury. In Pennsylvania, a student was tased after ignoring an order to put his cell phone away.

Defending the use of handcuffs and pepper spray to subdue students, one Alabama police department reasoned that if they can employ such tactics on young people away from school, they should also be permitted to do so on campus.

Now advocates for such harsh police tactics and weaponry will tell you that school safety should be our first priority lest we find ourselves with another Sandy Hook. What they will not tell you is that such shootings are rare. As one congressional report found, the schools are, generally speaking, safe places for children.

In their zeal to crack down on guns and lock down the schools, these cheerleaders for police state tactics in the schools might also fail to mention the lucrative, multi-million dollar deals being cut with military contractors such as Taser International to equip these school cops with tasers, tanks, rifles and $100,000 shooting detection systems.

Indeed, the transformation of hometown police departments into extensions of the military has been mirrored in the public schools, where school police have been gifted with high-powered M16 rifles, MRAP armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and other military gear. One Texas school district even boasts its own 12-member SWAT team.

According to one law review article on the school-to-prison pipeline, “Many school districts have formed their own police departments, some so large they rival the forces of major United States cities in size. For example, the safety division in New York City’s public schools is so large that if it were a local police department, it would be the fifth-largest police force in the country.”

The ramifications are far-reaching.

The term “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to a phenomenon in which children who are suspended or expelled from school have a greater likelihood of ending up in jail. One study found that “being suspended or expelled made a student nearly three times more likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system within the next year.”

Not content to add police to their employee rosters, the schools have also come to resemble prisons, complete with surveillance cameras, metal detectors, drug-sniffing dogs, random locker searches and active shooter drills. The Detroit public schools boast a “‘$5.6 million 23,000-sq ft. state of the art Command Center’ and ‘$41.7 million district-wide security initiative’ including metal detectors and ID system where visitors’ names are checked against the sex offender registry.”

As if it weren’t bad enough that the nation’s schools have come to resemble prisons, the government is also contracting with private prisons to lock up our young people for behavior that once would have merited a stern lecture. Nearly 40 percent of those young people who are arrested will serve time in a private prison, where the emphasis is on making profits for large megacorporations above all else.

Private prisons, the largest among them being GEO and the Corrections Corporation of America, profit by taking over a state’s prison population for a fee. Many states, under contract with these private prisons, agree to keep the prisons full, which in turn results in more Americans being arrested, found guilty and jailed for nonviolent “crimes” such as holding Bible studies in their back yard. As the Washington Post points out, “With the growing influence of the prison lobby, the nation is, in effect, commoditizing human bodies for an industry in militant pursuit of profit… The influence of private prisons creates a system that trades money for human freedom, often at the expense of the nation’s most vulnerable populations: children, immigrants and the poor.”

This profit-driven system of incarceration has also given rise to a growth in juvenile prisons and financial incentives for jailing young people. Indeed, young people have become easy targets for the private prison industry, which profits from criminalizing childish behavior and jailing young people. For instance, two Pennsylvania judges made headlines when it was revealed that they had been conspiring with two businessmen in a $2.6 million “kids for cash” scandal that resulted in more than 2500 children being found guilty and jailed in for-profit private prisons.

It has been said that America’s schools are the training ground for future generations. Instead of raising up a generation of freedom fighters, however, we seem to be busy churning out newly minted citizens of the American police state who are being taught the hard way what it means to comply, fear and march in lockstep with the government’s dictates.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, with every school police raid and overzealous punishment that is carried out in the name of school safety, the lesson being imparted is that Americans—especially young people—have no rights at all against the state or the police.

I’ll conclude with one hopeful anecdote about a Philadelphia school dubbed the “Jones Jail” because of its bad reputation for violence among the student body. Situated in a desperately poor and dangerous part of the city, the John Paul Jones Middle School’s student body had grown up among drug users, drug peddlers, prostitutes and gun violence. “By middle school,” reports The Atlantic, most of these students “have witnessed more violence than most Americans who didn’t serve in a war ever will.”

According to investigative reporters Jeff Deeney, “School police officers patrolled the building at John Paul Jones, and children were routinely submitted to scans with metal detecting wands. All the windows were covered in metal grating and one room that held computers even had thick iron prison bars on its exterior… Every day… [police] would set up a perimeter of police officers on the blocks around the school, and those police were there to protect neighbors from the children, not to protect the children from the neighborhood.”

In other words, John Paul Jones, one of the city’s most dangerous schools, was a perfect example of the school-to-prison, police state apparatus at work among the nation’s youngest and most impressionable citizens.

When management of John Paul Jones was taken over by a charter school that opted to de-escalate the police state presence, stripping away the metal detectors and barred windows, local police protested. In fact, they showed up wearing Kevlar vests. Nevertheless, school officials remained determined to do away with institutional control and surveillance, as well as aggressive security guards, and focus on noncoercive, nonviolent conflict resolution with an emphasis on student empowerment, relationship building and anger management.

The result: a 90% drop in serious incidents—drug sales, weapons, assaults, rapes—in one year alone. As one fifth-grader remarked on the changes, “There are no more fights. There are no more police. That’s better for the community.”

The lesson for the rest of us is this: you not only get what you pay for, but you reap what you sow.

If you want a nation of criminals, treat the citizenry like criminals.

If you want young people who grow up seeing themselves as prisoners, run the schools like prisons.

But if you want to raise up a generation of freedom fighters, who will actually operate with justice, fairness, accountability and equality towards each other and their government, then run the schools like freedom forums. Remove the metal detectors and surveillance cameras, re-assign the cops elsewhere, and start treating our nation’s young people like citizens of a republic and not inmates in a police state.


“Since mankind’s dawn, a handful of oppressors have accepted the responsibility over our lives that we should have accepted for ourselves. By doing so, they took our power. By doing nothing, we gave it away. We’ve seen where their way leads, through camps and wars, towards the slaughterhouse.” ― Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

What began with the passage of the USA Patriot Act in October 2001 has snowballed into the eradication of every vital safeguard against government overreach, corruption and abuse. Since then, we have been terrorized, traumatized, and acclimated to life in the American Surveillance State.

The bogeyman’s names and faces change over time, but the end result remains the same: our unquestioning acquiescence to anything the government wants to do in exchange for the phantom promise of safety and security has transitioned us to life in a society where government agents routinely practice violence on the citizens while, in conjunction with the Corporate State, spying on the most intimate details of our personal lives.

Ironically, the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks occurs just days before the 228th anniversary of the ratification of our Constitution. Yet while there is much to mourn about the loss of our freedoms in the years since 9/11, there is virtually nothing to celebrate.

The Constitution has been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded to such an extent that what we are left with today is but a shadow of the robust document adopted more than two centuries ago. Most of the damage has been inflicted upon the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution—which has historically served as the bulwark from government abuse.

Set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, overcriminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches, roving VIPR raids and the like—all sanctioned by a corrupt government run by Congress, the White House and the courts—a recitation of the Bill of Rights now sounds more like a eulogy to freedoms lost than an affirmation of rights we should possess.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the Constitution has been on life support for some time now and all efforts at resuscitating it may soon prove futile.

We can pretend that the Constitution, which was written to hold the government accountable, is still our governing document. However, the reality we must come to terms with is that in the America we live in today, the government does whatever it wants, freedom be damned, and “we the people” are seen as little more than cattle to be branded and eventually led to the slaughterhouse.

Consider the state of our freedoms, and judge for yourself whether Osama Bin Laden was right when he warned that “freedom and human rights in America are doomed,” and that the “U.S. government will lead the American people in — and the West in general — into an unbearable hell and a choking life.”

Here is what it means to live under the Constitution today.

The First Amendment is supposed to protect the freedom to speak your mind, assemble and protest nonviolently without being bridled by the government. It also protects the freedom of the media, as well as the right to worship and pray without interference. In other words, Americans should not be silenced by the government. To the founders, all of America was a free speech zone.

Yet despite the clear protections found in the First Amendment, the freedoms described therein are under constant assault. Increasingly, Americans are being arrested and charged with bogus “contempt of cop” charges such as “disrupting the peace” or “resisting arrest” for daring to film police officers engaged in harassment or abusive practices. Journalists are being prosecuted for reporting on whistleblowers. States are passing legislation to muzzle reporting on cruel and abusive corporate practices. Religious ministries are being fined for attempting to feed and house the homeless. Protesters are being tear-gassed, beaten, arrested and forced into “free speech zones.” And under the guise of “government speech,” the courts have reasoned that the government can discriminate freely against any First Amendment activity that takes place within a government forum.

The Second Amendment was intended to guarantee “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Yet while gun ownership has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as an individual citizen right, Americans remain powerless to defend themselves against SWAT team raids and government agents armed to the teeth with military weapons better suited for the battlefield than for a country founded on freedom. Police shootings of unarmed citizens continue to outrage communities, while little is really being done to demilitarize law enforcement agencies. Indeed, just recently, North Dakota became the first state to legalize law enforcement use of drones armed with weapons such as tear gas, rubber bullets, beanbags, pepper spray and Tasers.

The Third Amendment reinforces the principle that civilian-elected officials are superior to the military by prohibiting the military from entering any citizen’s home without “the consent of the owner.” With the police increasingly training like the military, acting like the military, and posing as military forces—complete with military weapons, assault vehicles, etc.—it is clear that we now have what the founders feared most—a standing army on American soil. Moreover, as a result of SWAT team raids (more than 80,000 a year) where police invade homes, often without warrants, and injure and even kill unarmed citizens, the barrier between public and private property has been done away with, leaving us with armed government agents who act as if they own our property.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from conducting surveillance on you or touching you or invading you, unless they have some evidence that you’re up to something criminal. In other words, the Fourth Amendment ensures privacy and bodily integrity. Unfortunately, the Fourth Amendment has suffered the greatest damage in recent years and been all but eviscerated by an unwarranted expansion of police powers that include strip searches and even anal and vaginal searches of citizens, surveillance and intrusions justified in the name of fighting terrorism, as well as the outsourcing of otherwise illegal activities to private contractors. Case in point: Texas police forced a 21-year-old woman to undergo a warrantless vaginal search by the side of the road after she allegedly “rolled” through a stop sign.

The use of civil asset forfeiture schemes to swell the coffers of police forces has also continued to grow in popularity among cash-strapped states. The federal government continues to strong-arm corporations into providing it with access to Americans’ private affairs, from emails and online transactions to banking and web surfing. Coming in the wake of massive leaks about the inner workings of the NSA and the massive secretive surveillance state, it was revealed that the government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 every day for failing to comply with the NSA’s mass data collection program known as PRISM. Meanwhile, AT&T has enjoyed a profitable and “extraordinary, decades-long” relationship with the NSA.

The technological future appears to pose even greater threats to what’s left of our Fourth Amendment rights, with advances in biometric identification and microchip implants on the horizon making it that much easier for the government to track not only our movements and cyber activities but our very cellular beings. Barclays has already begun using a finger-scanner as a form of two-step authentication to give select customers access to their accounts. Similarly, Motorola has been developing thin “digital tattoos” that will ensure that a phone’s owner is the only person who may unlock it. Not to be overlooked are the aerial spies—surveillance drones—about to take to the skies in coming years, as well as the Drive Smart programs that will spy on you (your speed, movements, passengers, etc.) while you travel the nation’s highways and byways.

The Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment work in tandem. These amendments supposedly ensure that you are innocent until proven guilty, and government authorities cannot deprive you of your life, your liberty or your property without the right to an attorney and a fair trial before a civilian judge. However, in the new suspect society in which we live, where surveillance is the norm, these fundamental principles have been upended. Certainly, if the government can arbitrarily freeze, seize or lay claim to your property (money, land or possessions) under government asset forfeiture schemes, you have no true rights. That’s the crux of a case before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the government’s use of asset forfeiture to strip American citizens of the funds needed to hire a defense attorney of their choosing.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees citizens the right to a jury trial. However, when the populace has no idea of what’s in the Constitution—civic education has virtually disappeared from most school curriculums—that inevitably translates to an ignorant jury incapable of distinguishing justice and the law from their own preconceived notions and fears. However, as a growing number of citizens are coming to realize, the power of the jury to nullify the government’s actions—and thereby help balance the scales of justice—is not to be underestimated. Jury nullification reminds the government that it’s “we the people” who can and should be determining what laws are just, what activities are criminal and who can be jailed for what crimes.

The Eighth Amendment is similar to the Sixth in that it is supposed to protect the rights of the accused and forbid the use of cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Supreme Court’s determination that what constitutes “cruel and unusual” should be dependent on the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” leaves us with little protection in the face of a society lacking in morals altogether. For example, a California appeals court is being asked to consider “whether years of unpredictable delays from conviction to execution” constitute cruel and unusual punishment. For instance, although 900 individuals have been sentenced to death in California since 1978, only 13 have been executed. As CBS News reports, “More prisoners have died of natural causes on death row than have perished in the death chamber.”

The Ninth Amendment provides that other rights not enumerated in the Constitution are nonetheless retained by the people. Popular sovereignty—the belief that the power to govern flows upward from the people rather than downward from the rulers—is clearly evident in this amendment. However, it has since been turned on its head by a centralized federal government that sees itself as supreme and which continues to pass more and more laws that restrict our freedoms under the pretext that it has an “important government interest” in doing so. Thus, once the government began violating the non-enumerated rights granted in the Ninth Amendment, it was only a matter of time before it began to trample the enumerated rights of the people, as explicitly spelled out in the rest of the Bill of Rights.

As for the Tenth Amendment’s reminder that the people and the states retain every authority that is not otherwise mentioned in the Constitution, that assurance of a system of government in which power is divided among local, state and national entities has long since been rendered moot by the centralized Washington, DC, power elite—the president, Congress and the courts. Indeed, the federal governmental bureaucracy has grown so large that it has made local and state legislatures relatively irrelevant. Through its many agencies and regulations, the federal government has stripped states of the right to regulate countless issues that were originally governed at the local level.

If there is any sense to be made from this recitation of freedoms lost, it is simply this: our individual freedoms have been eviscerated so that the government’s powers could be expanded, while reducing us to a system of slavery disguised as a democracy.

The film V for Vendetta is a powerful commentary on how totalitarian governments such as our own exploit fear and use mass surveillance, censorship, terrorism, and militarized tactics to control, oppress and enslave.

As the lead character V observes:

Where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the now high chancellor, Adam Sutler. He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent.

How will you have it? Will you simply comply while the train heads down the track to a modern-day Auschwitz? Or will you become a free person and resist? To quote Patrick Henry, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! — I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”