Saturday, June 24, 2006

The ACLU and Free Speech

We are often told that it is a "fact" that our free speech rights, both on the right and on the left are protected by the ACLU. I hold this notion to be false, but have never really addressed it on this blog.

The great John Leo, four weeks ago, wrote a piece on this very matter.

ACLU's free-speech defense depends on who's speaking
Many people believe that the American Civil Liberties Union no longer cares much about free-speech cases. Now, the organization is thinking of curbing the speech of its own officers. It has drawn up standards, not yet promulgated, that would discourage public dissent on ACLU policies and forbid open criticism of anyone on the board or the staff. Nat Hentoff, a former board member who writes frequently about the ACLU, called it a "gag order."

The organization said it feared that internal criticism might harm its fund-raising and public support. Yes, dissent can affect a group's reputation, but not as much as the squelching of dissent by alleged advocates of free speech.

One trigger for the no-criticism standards was the loud, open dissent by board member Wendy Kaminer on the ACLU's backing of a bill calling for federal regulation of ads placed by anti-abortion counseling centers. The bill, introduced in Congress by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D.-N.Y., would instruct the Federal Trade Commission to ban ads, under headings like "abortion" and "clinics," by centers that oppose abortion and try to convince women to keep their child. Kaminer, a Boston attorney who is "very strongly pro-choice," said, "I don't believe the pro-choice movement has the copyright on the term 'abortion services.' That seems to me a very clear example of government being the language police."
Meyers leveled many criticisms at Romero, among them: that he is intolerant of dissent, withholds financial information from the board, and cuts funding of ACLU affiliates if they are critical of him. He also says Romero instructed Nadine Strossen, president of the ACLU, to create a policy restricting board members' rights to speak directly to staff. Meyers said that policy was twice changed. Now questions by board members have to be voted on and agreed to by a majority of the executive committee before Romero will agree to answer.

Meyers thinks the ACLU's backing of the Maloney bill is an indication that the organization has strayed from its "traditional free-speech roots" and turned to "identity politics." It's hard to imagine the ACLU of 10 or 20 years ago asking government to monitor advertising.

But the ACLU now has issue-oriented lobbies inside it. They are called "projects" and include the "Reproductive Freedom Project," the "Women's Rights Project" and the "Lesbian and Gay Rights Project." The influence of the projects, and the money they bring in, often tend to sway the ACLU away from its once primary concern about free speech.
Read it all, there is much more.

The ACLU long ago gave up its interest in protecting free speech unless that speech supports some flavor of identity politics. And, if you are engaging in speech that goes against the causes of pro-abortion, pro-gay, pro-whatever, anti-Americanism, then you can expect no support from the ACLU. In fact, you may see them move against you. [read at least the first few pages of this, you will be astounded - ed.]

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