Inalienable Human Rights are not Privileges:
ACLU Sets the Standard in Struggle for “Liberty and Justice for All”
by Jason Miller
Ecclesiastes tells us there is “no new thing under the sun.” Marsha West’s article entitled American Christian Loathers Union provides us with a pertinent and timely example of this aphorism.
Throughout the religion’s history, various practitioners of Christianity have defied the compassionate teachings of Christ to perpetrate hateful, fear-mongering, and sometimes quite lethal campaigns against those who do not share their beliefs. The Inquisitions, the Salem Witch Trials, the persecution of Galileo, the US military’s slaughter of 600,000 Filipinos in an effort to (in the words of then US President William McKinley) “uplift and civilize and christianize” them, and Focus on the Family’s steady assault on homosexuals are but a few examples.
According to her bio at the close of her article, “Ms. West is the Founder and Editor of the E-Mail Brigade News Report , an online news report for conservative people of faith. Marsha is a freelance writer specializing in Christian worldview.” Evidently part of holding a Christian worldview involves launching vicious attacks on organizations about which one has limited knowledge. And perhaps it also includes lashing out at groups which oppose one’s viewpoint by intentionally dispersing distorted information about them.
As I did background research for this piece, I was utterly astounded at the number of Websites and writers devoted to stopping, hating, and opposing the ACLU. Despite having left the organization because its defense of corporate personhood conflicted with my strong opposition to predatory capitalism, I feel exceedingly appreciative of the ACLU’s Herculean efforts to protect the rights of the individual.
Consider this excerpt from the ACLU’s mission statement:
The American system of government is founded on two counterbalancing principles: that the majority of the people governs, through democratically elected representatives; and that the power even of a democratic majority must be limited, to ensure individual rights.
Majority power is limited by the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, which consists of the original ten amendments ratified in 1791, plus the three post-Civil War amendments (the 13th, 14th and 15th) and the 19th Amendment (women’s suffrage), adopted in 1920.
The mission of the ACLU is to preserve all of these protections and guarantees…
…We work also to extend rights to segments of our population that have traditionally been denied their rights, including Native Americans and other people of color; lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people; women; mental-health patients; prisoners; people with disabilities; and the poor.
If the rights of society’s most vulnerable members are denied, everybody’s rights are imperiled.
Since its founding in 1920 (supported by such luminaries as Helen Keller and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter), the ACLU has fought tenaciously to preserve the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments to the Constitution guaranteeing individual liberties. In a nation principally governed by a de facto aristocracy from its founding (many of the Founding Fathers were highly resistant to the inclusion of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution), We the People need an organization like the ACLU, despite some of its extremist leanings.
Recently, the ACLU secured what is arguably its most significant victory. In ACLU vs. NSA, Judge Anna Taylor Diggs halted the Bush administration’s persistent assault on “the separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA and Title III.” And she may have paved the way for the prosecution of the cadre of criminals who have seized power in the United States.
Utilizing the “War on Terror” as a pretext, Bush, Cheney, and company have steadily consolidated the federal government’s power into an executive branch headed by a president who attained office illegitimately, twice.
As Judge Diggs wrote in her 43 page opinion:
“It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights…. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all ‘inherent powers’ must derive from that Constitution.”
The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act afforded the Bush administration a legitimate means of attaining authorization for its domestic eavesdropping program (from the FISA court, which operates outside the realm of public scrutiny). Ignoring the onus to yield to the system of checks and balances (which is a bedrock principle of our Constitutional Republic) by seeking the FISA court’s approval, Bush chose to act as the tyrant against whom our Founding Fathers successfully rebelled.
Thank you, ACLU and Judge Diggs.
Referring back to Marsha West’s attack on the ACLU, as a strong proponent of human rights and social justice, a former member of the ACLU, a former Methodist (turned independent practitioner of personal spirituality), and an Eagle Scout who also earned his God and Country award, I felt moved to address some of the absurdities and misconceptions in her piece.
Ms. West begins her article by stating that the ACLU has been called “the most dangerous organization in America”.
On June 2, 2004, Bill O’Reilly (one of the corporate media’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders for the Bush administration’s war crimes and violations of Constitutional law) did indeed blather:
“Finally, the ACLU—we talked about this yesterday and I—and, you know, I have to pick on the ACLU because they’re the most dangerous organization in the United States of America right now. There’s by far. There’s nobody even close to that. They’re, like, second next to Al Qaeda.”
Enough said on that point.
Marsha West’s opinion piece goes on to assert that the “ACLU is a secular organization that exploits the law to impose their anti-God agenda”.
Interestingly, my research uncovered that the ACLU has fought on behalf of the rights of Christian persons or entities on over twenty separate occasions. Some examples of the ACLU waging its “anti-God agenda” include filing suit (or filing an amicus curiae brief) on behalf of:
1. a Christian Valedictorian whose yearbook entry was deleted by a public school because it contained a Biblical passage
2. a second grader whose public school prohibited him from singing “Awesome God” in a talent show
3. a New Mexico street preacher who was arrested for proselytizing to passing motorists
4. a member of Operation Rescue who was prevented from protesting against abortion
5. a Christian church attempting to run “anti-Santa” ads that were rejected by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
6. a Baptist minister whom local park authorities had prohibited from performing baptisms on public property
7. a group fighting to prevent the city of Boca Raton from forcing the removal of religious symbols from their family members’ graves
8. and (none other than) Jerry Falwell in his battle against a Virginia Constitutional prohibition against churches incorporating.
Each of the examples I cited resulted in positive results for Christians. Interesting record for an organization with an “anti-God agenda”.
Ms. West laments that the ACLU has colluded with liberal judges who legislated from the bench to erode “traditions we’ve held in this country for over 200 years”. Would those hallowed “traditions” include segregated schools, indigent people facing trial without an attorney, law enforcement violations of the rights of those suspected of a crime, suppression of freedom of assembly, forcing Jehovah’s Witness children to salute the US flag, restrictive covenants preventing the sale of homes to Blacks, public officials suing the press for “defamation”, loyalty oaths, anti-miscegenation laws, and beatings of incarcerated individuals? The ACLU and judges “legislating from the bench” were instrumental in affording individuals legal protection against these American “traditions”.
And we owe a deep debt of gratitude to Chief Justice John Marshall, who was one of the first to “legislate from the bench”. It was his “judicial activism” in the Marbury v. Madison case of 1803 that elevated the power of the Supreme Court to equal that of the President and Congress. With this ruling Marshall forged the Supreme Court’s role as the arbiter and ultimate interpreter of the Constitution. An independent and empowered judiciary is an essential element in a free and democratic society. Had Marshall not “legislated from the bench”, we would be closer to the abyss of fascism than we already are.
To support her argument that the ACLU’s efforts to remove the Christian God from the public square are “ludicrous” because of the frequency of Christian symbols “on government structures throughout the US….including the Supreme Court”, Ms. West relies upon widespread misconceptions which have been explained more thoroughly and accurately at:
Incidentally, the ACLU is not alone in its attempts to remove displays of Christian symbols in public areas. The Anti-Defamation League has joined the cause.
Consider this statement by ADL National Director Abraham Foxman:
“The notion that there is a one-size-fits-all Ten Commandments at the heart of American law and society is convenient, but not really true…There is no way to pick one version of the Ten Commandments, display it and say that this represents American secular tradition. In doing so, you are not respecting people who are not Jewish or Christian, or who come from other religious traditions.”
Marsha West also expresses significant concern that the ACLU has “vilified and viciously attacked” the Boy Scouts of America. Careful scrutiny of the situation reveals that rather than attacking the BSA, the ACLU has worked diligently to prevent public entities from supporting an organization which requires its members to swear an oath to the Christian God and discriminates against Gays. I was in the BSA for five years, attained its two highest honors, but now feel deeply disappointed in an organization which I held in such high regard as a youth. There are many worthwhile aspects to Scouting, but it is not the place of the public institutions of a heterogeneous and diverse society to support such an entity.
The ACLU’s defense of the rights of convicted sex offenders and NAMBLA also stirred considerable consternation in Ms. West. Yet like many critics of the ACLU, her vision of the forest is obscured by the trees.
As the ACLU stated concerning its defense of the Constitutional rights of NAMBLA:
“Regardless of whether people agree with or abhor NAMBLA’s views, holding the organization responsible for crimes committed by others who read their material would gravely endanger our important First Amendment freedoms…We join with all others in deploring the heinous crimes committed against Jeffrey Curley . . . But the expression of even offensive ideas is protected by the Constitution.”
The raison d’être of the ACLU is to protect individual people or groups of people from the inevitable “tyranny of the majority”. Sometimes this puts them in the unenviable position of defending the Constitutional rights of morally repugnant individuals or groups, including NAMBLA, the KKK, and neo-Nazis. Recalling the ACLU’s mission statement, the power even of a democratic majority must be limited, to ensure individual rights.
Regardless of how our society ultimately deals with moral deviants or perpetrators of heinous crimes, they are still human beings with human rights. Considering the magnitude of the prison industrial complex, the US criminal justice system’s bias toward punishment over reform, and the fact that the United States has the world’s largest prison population, it is highly unlikely that this nation is going to “get soft on crime”.
In her piece, Ms. West quotes conservative pundit Deroy Murdock (who is openly homosexual and therefore benefits handsomely from the vigorous support of Gay rights by the ACLU):
“It would be nice to see NAMBLA siphon its own bank account rather than the ACLU’s to justify its evil ways. The ACLU decides for itself where to devote its finite resources. Hence, its leaders freely chose to stand with cheerleaders for pederasty while torpedoing those who mentor rather than rape little boys.”
So what are we to conclude from this statement? As vile as they are, the members of NAMBLA have no rights? The Boy Scouts can utilize public resources to promote Christianity, bar those who do not swear an oath to God, and discriminate against Gays? And in a pronounced deviation from its long-standing and strict adherence to its mission to protect individuals from oppression by the majority, the ACLU has suddenly become an advocacy group for pederasty and an organization working to eliminate groups which mentor children?
As a former member of the ACLU who worked actively with my local affiliate, a zealous advocate for social justice and human rights, and a father, I feel quite confident that the American Civil Liberties Union does not harbor a secret agenda to promote child molestation or to eliminate groups which serve the interests of our children. As a former Scout I can also attest to the fact that some of the BSA’s heterosexual, “Christian” leaders leave much to be desired as mentors.
Allow me to cite Deroy Murdock from the same piece Marsha West quotes
“An old friend of mine once said this about the American Civil Liberties Union: ‘They’re a bunch of whale-saving, criminal-loving pinkos — and thank God for them.’
This remark nicely summarizes the ambivalence with which many people regard the ACLU.”
Obviously we have reached our conclusions about the ACLU by following very different paths, Mr. Murdock, but I concur with you.
And as controversial and extreme as they may be, I thank the Higher Power for the ACLU.