I joined the ACLU around the time the Patriot Act was being rushed through our derelict post-9/11 Congress; during that weird McCarthyite period when pervasive fear of dissent gripped us all.
I felt powerless in the wake of BushCo.’s executive power grab and unconstitutional rulings, and so I sent in my small contribution, something like $25 or less, and got my ACLU card to carry.
I did it because I didn’t like the idea that an executive-branch cabal could, on their say-so, declare anyone an enemy combatant or a terrorist and so deprive people of due process and legal representation. This scared me at least as much as potential terrorism.
I wanted to help protect the traditional American notion of “innocent until proven guilty.” It’s something that protects all of us from Salem Witch Hunts, or at least is supposed to. I didn’t like the idea that mere accusation was now equal to guilt. Getting away from that kind of Dark-Age barbarity was why America was founded in the first place. Now, as in the days of old, if you’re branded a criminal, a terrorist or whatever, then you must be one. Never mind allowing the accused proper resources/time/attorney access/and a properly unbiased venue to have one’s case heard—if and when it would ever be heard. Never mind humane conditions either. Things like the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act are supposed to be prevented by the Constitution. But the Constitution has not been defended and has not been followed by those whose sworn duty it is to defend. Our government has kidnapped people, held them in barbarous conditions, then let them go when they realized the accused were not guilty. Is this the American justice system? It’s what Dick Cheney has called “The Dark Side”—the new gloves-off, no-rules way that we have to fight Terrorism, he argues. When we throw the baby out with the bath water, it seems obvious that the terrorists have won. They’ve won by sitting back and watching our fears cause us to do stupid things against ourselves. Terrorists would certainly cheer another 9/11, but they really don’t need one. If we keep fighting perpetual wars that cost us in the trillions, we will bankrupt ourselves soon enough just as sure as the Soviets bankrupted themselves on military expenditures. If we continue to weaken our Constitution, we will bankrupt ourselves morally. We will no longer be seen as a moral example for the world. We will cave from within.
But that is not what I intended to write.
What I wanted to write concerned a certain religious program I happened to come across this past Sunday morning.
It was a slickly produced anti-ACLU screed filled with half-truths and constant misrepresentations. It was called, “Is the ACLU Good for America?” and it was a “special” segment of the “Coral Ridge Hour” produced by Fort Lauderdale, Fla.’s Coral Ridge Ministries, under the direction of the Rev. James Kennedy.
Kennedy’s war with the ACLU evidently goes back years, as a cursory glance of Google attests. I wish I had written down some of the claims being made on the show, but I was already familiar with the similar stale litany of anti-ACLU canards.
The non-partisan ProCon.org offers a good roundup of the for- and against-ACLU arguments, in relation to specific controversial issues.
Interestingly in nearly all the cases, the anti-ACLU arguments boil down to the kind of this-therefore-that “logic:”
The ACLU seems always to defend criminals, so they must be pro-criminal.
The ACLU seems always to defend pedophiles, so they must promote pedophilia.
The ACLU seems always to defend terrorists, so they must be pro-terrorist.
The ACLU always wants prayer, religious symbols and so on taken out of schools, therefore they are anti-religion.
Rev. Kennedy and his ilk make these kinds of statements and claims because they know they can get away with it and because it will loosen the purses and wallets of those who lack or those who don’t want to exercise their God-given critical thinking skills.
The ACLU has one agenda only, and it is: Is the Constitution being followed?
If not, then they do their best to make sure that it is. Everyone, no matter how heinous they might be, is guaranteed a fair trial. So if the ACLU helps defend an accused child rapist, or an accused terrorist, or a KKK member who wants to march to state his case, that doesn’t mean the ACLU promotes or condones pedophiles, terrorists or white supremacists.
It only means one thing. It means they promote and condone the Constitution. It means that the rules are supposed to be the same for everybody when a case comes to court. Everybody—even the most despised defendant.
How hard is that to grasp?
The good reverend Kennedy might even be surprised to know that the ACLU itself would defend his right to continue making stupid statements. After all, opinions aren’t always based on fully-thought-through logic. People can believe and state that the Earth is flat if they want. The ACLU would defend their right to say so.
The Cool Aqua blog has a few interesting things to say about the Rev. Kennedy’s beef with the ACLU, if you’re so inclined to visit.
So where’s my beef? How has the ACLU done wrong by me? I’m afraid my beef with them is a little more mundane; not so dramatic.
After I sent them my modest contribution, it seems the ACLU squandered it in paper and postage and time trying to get me to give them more money. On top of their own added mailings, they sold my name and address to practically every other non-profit social justice group in existence, worsening my junk mail input (not to mention the adverse effect on the environment).
So, how much of my contribution went to fighting the assault on our Constitution? Not as much as I had hoped, I’m afraid.
I still agree with the philosophy and efforts of the ACLU, but I declined to remain a member because of the inefficient use of my contribution.
There are probably all kinds of marketing studies that the ACLU can cite to justify their junk mail tactics. For every certain percentage of people who are turned off and drop out because of them, they can probably cite stats that say an even greater number will send more money.
For those of us who don’t have much money—who try to pool it to gain access to places where our voices are drowned out by those with even bigger money—I find it disillusioning. And ironic.
I really want to join the ACLU again, badly. But I don’t like my pathetic few dollars thrown back at me in the form of trash.