Throughout right wing radio, the right wing blogosphere, and the right wing cable network Fox News, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been demonized with falsehoods, distortions, and out right lies about their work. As a card carrying member of the ACLU, I'd thought it would be educational to give a brief history while debunking the smears put against the organization.
Myth: ACLU is Partisan and Communist
Origin of the ACLU
In the years following World War I, America was gripped by the fear that the Communist Revolution that had taken place in Russia would spread to the United States. As is often the case when fear outweighs rational debate, civil liberties paid the price. In November 1919 and January 1920, in what notoriously became known as the “Palmer Raids,” Attorney General Mitchell Palmer began rounding up and deporting so-called radicals. Thousands of people were arrested without warrants and without regard to constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure. Those arrested were brutally treated and held in horrible conditions.
In the face of these egregious civil liberties abuses, a small group of people decided to take a stand, and thus was born the American Civil Liberties Union. [ACLU History]
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City Bombing along with the bad image put upon militias, I and probably all those with a right wing point of view would want government policies to have as much oversight as possible.
In fact that's exactly what the ACLU was pushing for in response to Bill Clinton's military police plan and anti-terrorism legislation. Rush Limbaugh quoted the ACLU's criticism of the plan on his television show.
The ACLU is non partisan with who they represent. A few cases right wingers problably never heard were Rush Limbaugh's medical records case, Oliver North (Iran Contra- illegally selling weapons to Iran) and recently the DHS report warning of violent right wing extremist groups saying DHS Should Focus on Criminal Activity, Not Beliefs.
Was the ACLU co-founder Roger Baldwin a Communist?
No, Roger Baldwin was not a communist. Like many of his contemporaries, he observed and wrote about the social and political issues in the early years of the Soviet Union, but later he wrote, "The Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, a traumatic shock to me, ended any ambivalence I had about the Soviet Union, and all cooperation with Communists in united fronts."The ACLU has clarified it's position on the right to property in an interview with ACLU President Nadine Strossen by Reason Magazine.
Throughout the organization’s history and particularly during the McCarthy era, the ACLU, its members, staff and founders have been accused of being communists. The ACLU has no political affiliations and makes no test of individuals' ideological leanings a condition of membership or employment. Members and staff of the national ACLU and its affiliates may be Republicans, Democrats, Communists, Federalists, Libertarians, or members of any other political party or no party at all. What the ACLU asks of its staff and officials is that they consistently defend civil liberties and the Constitution. ACLU FAQs
Reason: Hasn't the ACLU neglected property rights? Should there be a fundamental distinction between civil liberties, such as speech or religion, and property ownership?Myth: ACLU is Anti-Gun
Strossen: Well, there certainly isn't any distinction in my mind. And there certainly isn't any distinction in terms of ACLU policy. People have rights. Property doesn't have rights. Some of the rights people have are closely associated with property. The Due Process Clause says government cannot deprive people of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. We certainly have many cases involving that privilege.
The Supreme Court really hasn't done too much in this area, so the examples that I can think of go back a long way. They were cases in the 1960s that involved government jobs or government benefits in which the courts analyzed the benefit as property. We have never taken the position, despite repeated requests from certain elements within the organization, that you should have a fundamental right to "property," that the government should guarantee an income or guarantee a house. However, we have always taken the position that, if the government chooses to distribute certain benefits, it may not do so in a way that violates fundamental rights, including depriving you of the property that the government has chosen to give you, without certain procedural protections. [Reason October 1994 Issue]
The national ACLU is neutral on the issue of gun control. We believe the Second Amendment does not confer an unlimited right upon individuals to own guns or other weapons, nor does it prohibit reasonable regulation of gun ownership, such as licensing and registration. [Tough Questions About ACLU Positions]The ACLU has actually allied with the NRA and even taken positions you think the NRA would support.
In a report issued in February, the Texas affiliate of the National Rifle Association joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition “to spotlight unlawful, unnecessary governmental encroachment on average law-abiding citizens.”The report, “Above the Law: How Texas prosecutors are placing their own judgment over that of the Legislature and the law of the land,” found that district and county attorneys had instructed police officers to “unnecessarily” interrogate drivers and arrest them or take their weapons, “even if they are legally carrying the gun.”[New York Time 4/5/11]ACLU Sought to Broaden Right-To-Carry Laws
According to a January 6 FoxNews.com story, the 30-year legal resident and previous Right-to-Carry permit holder was denied due to a 2002 change in South Dakota’s Right-to-Carry law that requires an applicant to be an American citizen. Citing the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, the ACLU of South Dakota has leveled the suit against the South Dakota Secretary of State and the Minnehaha County Sherriff’s Office and has also filed for an injunction to stop the enforcement of the citizenship requirement.So the NRA opposes suspected terrorists being prevented from buying guns if they're on the terror watch list but not illegal aliens? I'm confused by the inconsistency. Also I couldn't find what the ACLU's official position is on the gun ban for suspected terrorists.
Curiously, some in the pro-gun community have come out in favor of South Dakota’s restriction on Right-to-Carry, stoking fears of illegal aliens carrying guns. Even if we could believe that people who enter the country illegally would concern themselves with obeying the concealed carry laws, elimination of South Dakota’s citizenship requirement for Right-to-Carry would in no way affect those who are in the country illegally. The NRA remains strongly opposed to gun possession by illegal aliens. [NRA-LIA 1/7/11]
Myth: ACLU Supports Child Pornography
Definitely one of the most inflammatory claims about the organization. The context of their position is easily distorted.
The ACLU does not support pornography. But we do oppose virtually all forms of censorship. Possessing books or films should not make one a criminal. Once society starts censoring “bad” ideas, it becomes very difficult to draw the line. Your idea of what is offensive may be a lot different from your neighbor’s. In fact, the ACLU does take a very purist approach in opposing censorship. Our policy is that possessing even pornographic material about children should not itself be a crime. The way to deal with this issue is to prosecute the makers of child pornography for exploiting minors. [Tough Questions About ACLU Positions]You catch that? "Prosecute the makers of child pornography for exploiting minors".
In response to a bill that sought to ban "virtual child pornography" the ACLU reaffirmed their position.
H.R. 4623 seeks to ban ""virtual child pornography,"" and prohibit ""pandering"" of images as child pornography even if the images are not obscene or child pornography. It creates a whole new category of prohibited speech, prohibits using sexually explicit materials to facilitate offenses against minors, creates extraterritorial jurisdiction, and creates a database of minors who have been exploited in the creation of child pornography. The ACLU opposes child pornography that uses real children in its depictions. Material, however, which is produced without using real children, and is not otherwise obscene, is protected under the First Amendment. H.R. 4623 attempts to ban this protected material, and therefore will likely meet the same fate as the provisions stricken from the Child Pornography Prevention Act (CPPA) in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition. [Letter to Reps. Smith and Scott on H.R. 4623, the ""Child Obscenity and Pornography Prevention Act of 2002"]
Some of you might disagree with me when I say the ACLU is right. In 2010 the Supreme Court struck down 8-1 a federal law meant to ban depictions of dog fights and other torture against animals, saying it violated constitutional guarantees of free speech and created a "criminal prohibition of alarming breadth."
From the Washington Post
The law was enacted in 1999 to forbid sales of so-called crush videos. They appeal to a certain sexual fetish by depicting the torture of animals -- cats, dogs, monkeys, mice and hamsters, according to Congress -- or showing them being crushed to death by women wearing stiletto heels or with their bare feet. While dog-fighting and other forms of animal cruelty are already illegal, Congress said the legislation was necessary to stop the production of videos for commercial gain. [Washington Post 4/21/10]
Myth: ACLU is Anti-Religious Freedom
Also the NRA is anti-gun and Sean Hannity is anti-Bush.
Religious freedom is a fundamental human right that is guaranteed by the First Amendment's Free Exercise and Establishment clauses. It encompasses not only the right to believe (or not to believe), but also the right to express and to manifest religious beliefs. These rights are fundamental and should not be subject to political process and majority votes.
The Constitution does not endorse any religious creed, and it does not recognize any power of government to decide theological questions. Beliefs about the nature of God is a proper subject for individuals, families, religious communities, and theologians, but not for government bodies such as the U.S. Congress or a local school board.
Religion is pervasive in the public square in the United States - and it is constitutionally protected.The ACLU has long defended individuals, families, and religious communities who wish to manifest their religion in public. Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, cathedrals, and Gurdwaras are plainly visible in the public sphere and their right to display religious symbols and to construct religious edifices is protected by the Constitution and by statutes.The ACLU has supported the right of people to preach their religion in public places and to go door-to-door to spread their religious messages.
The right of churches and families to erect such monuments on their own property is constitutionally protected, regardless of whether it is public or private and regardless of whether someone is offended or not. A Christian cross that is fully visible from a public sidewalk is constitutionally protected when placed in front of a church. But if that same cross were moved across the street and placed in front of city hall, it would violate the Constitution. [ACLU and Religious Belief]The most popular ACLU misinformation pushed on right wing radio is claiming the ACLU (or secular humanists!) banned prayer, God, or religion in public schools.
Children are free to pray in public schools either as individuals or in groups. In addition, whenever a teacher opens up an assignment topic for the children's choice (such as which book to read, what to discuss in a talk to the class, or which song to sing), students may choose religious themes - and the ACLU has protected their right to do so. (Learn More) In addition, schools may offer courses about religion or about the Bible or other religious works. [ACLU and Religious Belief]
The dirtiest defamation tactic used against the ACLU is chain emailing. Those emails you get that have disproportionate font sizes with a picture or two. At the end it tells you to forward the email to everyone you know. The one in particular that I received last year from a church read this:
"Did you see in the news last week where the A C L U doesn't want any crosses on any Federal property".
According to Snopes, this email has been around since 2003.
What goes on the internet stays on the internet. Ironically the ACLU would fight to keep the most defamatory smears against them from being censored. Even if it causes someone to want to shoot them.