The American Civil Liberties Union was started almost 100 years ago with the intent of defending the rights and liberties of Americans that are guaranteed under the Constitution and the laws of the United States. In its almost a century of existence it has been condemned and criticized by liberals and conservatives. More recently, liberals were angered when the ACLU backed the National Rifle Association in opposing a national gun registry. In the 1970’s the ACLU supported the rights of a neo-Nazi group to hold a public rally in Illinois. That also didn’t go over well with the left.
Conservatives have never liked the ACLU’s support of such things as affirmative action, and abortion and reproductive rights. The same is true of the rights of prisoners, immigrants, and anti-war activists. The right loves to target the ACLU over its opposition to school-led prayer in public schools. So it is interesting to see that long standing division of opinion about the ACLU’s role in defending civil liberties, playing out in today’s news stories.
The Massachusetts chapter of the ACLU argued yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court that the state’s requirement that requires individuals to register to vote within 20 days of an election is unconstitutional. Claiming that the requirement is “overburdensome,” the ACLU has stated that Massachusetts should provide the least restrictive means of registering voters–i.e. same day registration. The current policy has a chilling effect on potential voters, according to the ACLU. This doesn’t make conservatives who are concerned about voter fraud happy. In another case that is irking conservatives, the ACLU has backed LGBT efforts to force a Colorado maker of wedding cakes to accommodate gay couples that want one. The cake maker says that doing this violates his religious rights. The ACLU has weighed in against this interpretation of the First Amendment saying that “You can have the freedom to believe and preach your faith, until your actions harm other people.” Opposing discriminatory conduct, at least in the eyes of the ACLU trumps religious freedom.
In Pennsylvania, the ACLU yesterday defended the actions of a retired naval officer who wants to broadcast taps every night from his home. The local government had singled out his 57 second performance as a “nuisance.” Not so, says the ACLU who have argued that the state’s cease and desist order is unconstitutional. It is content-based discrimination in their view. Liberals aren’t applauding the ACLU for this.
When you look at the long history of positions taken by the ACLU it’s pretty clear that its goal continues to be defending our rights and liberties against encroachment by government. And it doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum one supports. We should be grateful that we’ve got an organization like the ACLU in our corner when and if we ever need it.