Wednesday, May 24, 2006

ACLU against Free Speech

30 years ago I really respected the ACLU. They fought for issues, not because they agreed with them, but because it was the right thing to do. An example from the 1970s was the ACLU defending some neo-NAZIs' rights to have a parade through a predominantly Jewish section of Chicago. I understood, as they did at the time, that your commitment to freedom of speech is only proved when you support a message you disagree with. Voltaire said it this way - I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Things have changed since then. The ACLU just announced a new policy - if you are on the board of directors you give up free speech. Specifically the new standards would discourage its board members from publicly criticizing the organization's policies and internal administration. Why?
"Directors should remember that there is always a material prospect that public airing of the disagreement will affect the A.C.L.U. adversely in terms of public support and fund-raising,"

So money is more important than public dissent.

What else has changed in the ACLU? For one thing, they would have taken the other side in the NAZI case:

Anthony D. Romero, the A.C.L.U.'s executive director, said that he had not yet read the proposals and that it would be premature to discuss them before the board reviews them at its June meeting.

Mr. Romero said it was not unusual for the A.C.L.U. to grapple with conflicting issues involving civil liberties. "Take hate speech," he said. "While believing in free speech, we do not believe in or condone speech that attacks minorities."

I'll say it again, if you only protect speech that you approve of then you are not really protecting freedom of speech.

For a different (but not complimentary) take on the ACLU, see here.

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