The ACLU’s Liberal Bias

The American Civil Liberties Union supports freedom of speech, as long as it’s the “correct” type of speech.

The American Civil Liberties Union (aclu) is incrementally abandoning its support of all free speech in favor of a liberal agenda. Author and lawyer Wendy Kaminer denounced the change in the Wall Street Journal on May 23, saying “the aclu is being transformed into just another liberal human-rights group that reliably defends the rights of liberal speakers.”

The cases the aclu ignores provide the clearest evidence of the ideological change. The organization has ignored Harper v. Poway, a case hinging on whether a student can wear a T-shirt denouncing homosexuality. This is telling because the aclu has staunchly supported the right of students to wear T-shirts that promote homosexuality, as well as those that bash President Bush; one student even received a Youth Activist Scholarship for her support of a shirt stating: “Gay, fine by me.” But when the free speech opposes homosexuality, the aclu goes mute. Even when the ever-reliable Ninth Circuit opposed Harper’s free speech, the aclu stayed out of it, ignoring the creation of a precedent rejecting the First Amendment based on “the imagined feelings of gay students.”

Ultimately, the Supreme Court vacated the decision—but the fact remains that the aclu was willing to let a precedent stand that squashes free speech.

Last year’s row over cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad also drew total silence until enough complaints forced the aclu to respond. Kaminer suggests a growing support for “restricting what many liberals condemn as hate speech” was at play. Its board even considered a proposal last year barring board members from criticizing the aclu, a proposal Executive Director Anthony Romero supported until the Times exposed it.

There are numerous other examples of the aclu going mute in cases it disagrees with, but the real question is: Should we expect the aclu to support all free speech? If its history is our guide, absolutely yes. The protection of free speech was the guiding principle of the aclu in 1977, for example, when it successfully defended the right of the National Socialist Party of America—a group of neo-Nazis—to demonstrate in one of Chicago’s Jewish neighborhoods filled with Holocaust survivors and their families.

Disgusting? Of course. But the principle at play resonates strongly with most Americans: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” The aclu no longer supports that ideal. Instead, it is gradually adopting a stance that opposes Christians, yet supports homosexuals; it supports those who denounce the president but does nothing to protect those who criticize an Islamic icon. In 2006, it even supported a prohibition on “injurious communications … directed toward an individual because of their characteristics or beliefs.” The injurious communicators in question were conservative religious students.

Twenty years ago, no one would have imagined the aclu supporting the restriction of free speech. Now, though, while it still throws its weight behind wicked causes, it no longer supports the righteous (Proverbs 18:5). Rather than fulfilling its original purpose to support free speech, the aclu has become just another mouthpiece for political correctness and liberal thought.