A lot of people have expressed amazement that the Tea Party and the ACLU are both threatening to sue if the city puts “rules” for “controlling” the use of the Redding City Library parking lot by people handing out leaflets. How, they ask, could the ultra-conservative Tea Party and the “Commie Pinko” ACLU be aligned? Is the world upside down? These people should be sworn enemies, not allies.
These questions all arise out of a very serious misconception as to what the ACLU is about. The initials stand for “American Civil Liberties Union.” The ACLU does not promote or support any particular political idea or party. It has one purpose and one purpose only: The protection of those rights, largely enshrined in the Bill of Rights, that set America apart and make this country so great. The ACLU truly stands for the idea that was so succinctly stated by the 18th Century French writer and philosopher, Voltaire, when he said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
The ACLU believes that the proposed library regulations are an illegal infringement on the right of free speech. It makes no difference to the ACLU that the speech that is being limited is of an ultra-conservative group, the Tea Party. The ACLU would have the same objection if the group were the Communist Party, the John Birch Society, or the Audubon Society. The issue is not what is in the message of the people wanting to pass out the literature, but their right to say whatever they want. Further, the ACLU clearly understands that you only have freedom of speech if unpopular speech is protected. Popular speech is easy to protect, and, in fact seldom needs protection. But a society that suppresses unpopular speech does not really have freedom of speech at all.
The ACLU has acted to defend the rights, especially the right of free speech, of just about every group you can think of. When the city of Cicero, Illinois, refused to give the American Nazi Party a permit to have a parade, the ACLU successfully sued to force the city to let the Nazis march. As it happens, the man who prosecuted the action was a classmate and dear friend of mine from law school, named David Goldberg. David is a Jewish guy and one of the kindest, sweetest men you could ever meet. He loathed the ground the Nazis walked on, but he understood that the principle of free speech is critical, so he took the case on – for free, I might add. In fact, the ACLU once took on the cause of some public school students who were being prevented from staging a protest on school property. Who did they want to protest against? The ACLU! The ACLU demanded that the free speech rights of the students be respected and that the protest, against the ACLU, not be interfered with by the school.
The ACLU is disliked in many circles because it has acted to prevent prayer in schools. The ACLU is neither anti-prayer nor is it anti-Christian. It is simply against the sponsorship by government of any religion. It is also against acts by government that have the effect of preventing people from practicing whatever religion they choose. In fact, the ACLU has taken many actions to stop various government agencies from practices that interfere with the free exercise of religion by individuals or groups. The ACLU has gone to bat for many Christian causes all over the country. You can find some of them at http://www.aclufightsforchristians.com/
Unfortunately, much of the mis-perception of the ACLU has been the result of intentional distortion of facts by people who do not like their actions. Since most (but by no means all) of the actions which have the effect of limiting the freedoms of individual Americans have been taken by conservatives of one stripe or another, there has been a concerted effort by conservatives to smear an organization which, quite frankly, has done more to protect our individual rights and liberties than any other. The ACLU is blind to sex, color, age, national origin, or political persuasion. But it has a very clear vision of the Bill of Rights and will take up the fight to protect it against anybody. I just wish many of our political leaders were as passionate about the rights of our people as the volunteers of the ACLU.***** More on this topic at A News Cafe: By Phil Fountain, Sunday Funny: Free Speech for All! Well, Within Reason… By Jim Dyar, Debate on Free Speech at the Library Continues
Dugan Barr has practiced law in Redding since 1967. He has tried more than 200 civil jury cases to verdict. He is married and has five children. The offices of Barr and Mudford, LLP, are at 1824 Court St. in Redding and can be reached at 243-8008.
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