WSJ: The ACLU Has Abandoned First Amendment

ACLU Dissent is Patriotic Resistance training (Leila Macor / AFP / Getty)
Leila Macor / AFP / Getty

A column in the Wall Street Journal argues that the American Civil Liberties Union has given up on defending free speech.

Just consider the ACLU’s stance on speech that allegedly denigrates “marginalized” groups. New guidelines recently published by the group make it clear that certain types of speech impede on progress.

The American Civil Liberties Union has explicitly endorsed the view that free speech can harm “marginalized” groups by undermining their civil rights. “Speech that denigrates such groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality,” the ACLU declares in new guidelines governing case selection and “Conflicts Between Competing Values or Priorities.”’

The group still claims to defend speech rights. However, they include the disclaimer that they are only “committed to defending speech rights without regard to whether the views expressed are consistent with or opposed to the ACLU’s core values, priorities and goals.”  They go on to write that they will refuse to work certain hate groups based on “the extent to which” the group’s “speech may assist in advancing the goals of white supremacists or others whose views are contrary to our values.”

The ACLU famously defended the First Amendment rights of a Ku Klux Klan leader in the Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969). The ACLU persuaded the court to reverse Clarence Brandenburg’s conviction on the basis that his bigoted speech did not directly incite violence or imminent illegal action.

The Wall Street Journal column argues that the ACLU would likely turn away such a case today. Between the increasing distaste for the First Amendment within the organization and the immense pressures from the public, it’s highly unlikely that the organization would even begin to entertain taking on such a case in 2018.

Perhaps the ACLU should remember professor Noam Chomsky’s perspective on protecting the right to express ugly thoughts. “Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked,” Chomsky famously said.  “So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.”



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