Sunday, May 29, 2005

AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION: FRIEND OR FOE?









The ACLU opposes religious signs like this on government property

(This column ran in the 6-3-05 THE ALBANY (Ga.) JOURNAL)

It was the last sentence in the article which got my attention:

"One board member was re-elected after a letter critical of prayer's prevalence, written by his Jewish opponent, was circulated, with a scrawled note casting her as an outsider."

The headline on the Associated Press article said "Ministers: ACLU, go home." If the Louisiana pastors had been more honest, it would have read "Jews, go home." The Rev. Louis Husser, looking smug and happy in the AP photo, was even more blunt: "The ACLU defends pedophiles. You have to understand where they are coming from."

The ACLU’s crime in Louisiana’s Tangipahoa Parish? Successfully petitioning a court on behalf of religious minorities to prohibit the local government from using taxpayer funds to establish an official religion.

So how did we get to this point in America in 2005? An organization whose sole purpose is to protect civil liberties found in the United States Constitution is vilified as much as pedophiles who prey on children. Is it because the ACLU’s goals are misunderstood- or is it because its mission is understood all too well by those who try to undermine it? The ACLU’s mission statement is unequivocal:


“The ACLU is our nation's guardian of liberty. We work daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States. Our job is to conserve America's original civic values - the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”


This doesn’t sound so pernicious. After all, every officer in our military and every elected official, State and Federal, swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic.” But many officeholders pay no attention to the meaning of their oath- most notably, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who defied orders of the federal courts to remove a granite monument to the Ten Commandments.

In the dark of night Moore had unilaterally placed the 6,000 pound religious monument in the lobby of the State’s Judicial Building against the wishes of his eight colleagues on the Alabama Supreme Court. Moore ultimately lost his job when he violated his oath of office by defying the federal courts and refusing to abide by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits “an establishment of religion.” (As a side note, President Bush has nominated former Alabama Attorney General William Pryor to the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit- the same court which had upheld the order to remove the monument. Incredibly, Attorney General Pryor had unsuccessfully argued to the 11th Circuit on behalf of Moore that the First Amendment didn’t apply to Alabama.)

Speaking to a rally in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Moore, the self-proclaimed “Ten Commandments Judge,” told supporters that the United States was founded to be a “Christian nation.” In fiery oratory, Moore thundered “in homes and schools across our land, it's time for Christians to take a stand" and told the crowd that it's time Christians "take back our land.”

Which invites the obvious question: if this truly is a Christian nation and Christians are the majority, then who has their land? Perhaps the Native Americans slipped off the reservation and repossessed Manhattan Island and other valuable properties while Justice Moore wasn’t looking.

Of course, the hypocrisy of national pontificators knows no bounds. Rush Limbaugh, who never found a kind- or accurate- word to say about the ACLU in his radio program, had no compunction in accepting its help when the privacy of his medical records was at issue during Florida’s investigation of his admitted abuse of OxyContin.
Limbaugh’s attorney, Roy Black, and the ACLU argued that the State of Florida’s seizure violated Limbaugh's right to privacy and the confidentiality of the relationship between patients and doctors. Black, apparently speaking without irony, opined:

"What meaning would the patient protections in the Constitution and the law have if prosecutors could disregard them any time they wanted to?"

Perhaps the ACLU should sponsor a debate between Limbaugh and Texas Republican Congressman Tom DeLay on the issue of privacy rights. In his unbridled attacks on the judiciary, House Majority Leader DeLay recently said:

“"I blame Congress over the last 50 to 100 years for not standing up and taking its responsibility given to it by the Constitution. The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state that's nowhere in the Constitution is that Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had judicial review is because Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had a right to privacy is because Congress didn't stop them."

So there it is. The Majority Leader of the United States House of Representatives blames Congress for the fact that Americans have religious freedom and a right to privacy. But in truth it wasn’t Congress that ensured Americans’ rights to privacy and to live in a country where the government can’t compel obedience to a particular religion. If the ACLU and civil liberties lawyers didn’t exist, if Tom Delay, Roy Moore, and Rev. Husser had their way, then the government would have the power to tell Americans what books they possess, what movies they could rent, what sexual positions husbands and wives were permitted, and whether or not they could use birth control. That may seem exaggerated or far fetched, but every one of those rights was the subject of a decision of the United States Supreme Court in the last 40 years. In every case, the ACLU and similar organizations were advocates for liberty and against government control over our everyday lives, protecting us from living under an American version of the Taliban.

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