Does the ACLU Still Support the First Amendment?

The ACLU has always been an important but imperfect organization.  Historically, its biggest problem IMO has been its Stalinist origins and its resulting complete silence on, even at times hostility towards, property rights.   But it was always wonderfully absolutist in protecting free speech.  One of my first blog posts, which I can't seem to find, 10+ years ago was a post congratulating the ACLU to the distasteful but necesary task of defending the free speech rights of neo-Nazis.

Unfortunately, the rising opposition to free speech on the Left seems to be infecting the ACLU.  Via Ronald Collins:

Wendy Kaminer is an ardent free-speech advocate; she is currently a member of the advisory board of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Ms. Kaminer Kaminer was a member of the board of the ACLU of Massachusetts from the early 1990s until June 2009. She was also a national board member of the ACLU from 1999 until her term expired in June 2006. As to the omission of any reference to protecting First Amendment free-speech freedoms in the 2016 Workplan, she stated:

I’m not at all surprised that the ACLU’s 2016 work plan doesn’t include an explicit commitment to protecting freedom of speech. At the national level, ACLU has been exercising its right to remain silent on key free speech issues for years, in apparent deference to progressive support for restricting speech deemed racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise exclusionary. Still, while it’s unsurprising, the ACLU’s withdrawal from free speech battles that could eventually lead the U.S. to adopt a Western European approach to regulating “hate speech” is indeed alarming. As threats to free speech intensify — on campus (thanks partly to arguably unconstitutional federal mandates) and in the remarkable tendency of some liberals to blame the victims of violence for giving offense to their murderers (remember Charlie Hebdo) — the ACLU’s timidity in protecting speech looks more and more like complicity in censoring it.

Here is how Harvey A. Silverglate, co-founder of FIRE and a former member of the Board President of the ACLU of Massachusetts, replied:

Sadly, it comes as no surprise that the national ACLU Board and Staff are nowhere to be seen in the increasingly difficult battle to protect First Amendment freedom of expression rights. This is especially so in areas where the ACLU, more and more, pursues a political or social agenda where the overriding importance of the goal transcends, in the eyes of ACLU’s leadership, the needed vitality of free speech principles neutrally and apolitically applied. Fortunately, some ACLU state affiliates still carry the free speech battle flag, but they are a diminishing army in a war that is getting more and more difficult, even though more and more important, to wage.


  • mckyj57

    I was a longtime supporter of the ACLU. I have switched my donations to the Institute for Justice:

  • J_W_W

    Looks to me like FIRE is usurping the ACLU on Free Speech.

  • Patrick McGuire

    Well, if you're referring to the colloquial 1st amendment, yeah. But 1st also deals with freedom of religion, which is being used by the Republican-style right at the moment to oppose gay marriage. They support personal choice to refuse to treat with gays for commercial services, which you support. They also support government officials refusing to treat gay spouses as equal because of personal religious beliefs, which I haven't seen anything on here but I'm guessing horrifies you. The first amendment is in a weird place nowdays, it's overloaded, so much of the mass of the bill of rights is in the first tenth wordwise.

    Also, ACLU doesn't bother with the 2nd amendment because there's clearly a stronger organization in favor, the same thing may be happening here. The 4th is clearly ailing, the 8th is in trouble (cruel and unusual punishment everyone knows, but also excessive bail and excessive fines *COUGH* Ferguson! *COUGH*). So they may be picking their battles.

  • Bram

    They have dropped the 1st, 2nd, 9th, and 10th.

  • mesocyclone

    The ACLU's free speech work has been a sham for a long time. They would help the occasional Nazi to appear unbiased, but that was just for show. They also have no idea that the 1st Amendment has two religious protection clauses - except when the religion is satanism or something. The 2nd, 9th and 10th Amendments are nowhere to be found either.

    The ACLU is just another progressive front. Don't give them a penny. Ever.

  • mesaeconoguy

    Thank God for IJ, and their escalating profile alumni (Clint Bolick, AZ Supreme Court).

  • HenryBowman419

    The ACLU has only supported commie causes wholeheartedly. Stuff such as the 1st Amendment were just for show. Their mask is now off.