Earlier this month, I wrote a column about the American Civil Liberties Union. I said then that the ACLU, which bills itself as “our nation’s guardian of liberty,” would more accurately be described as the guardian of a far-left progressive agenda. Just days ago, the organization resoundingly confirmed my point.
My previous column discussed a proposed federal law which would prohibit anyone in the U.S. from refusing to do business with Israelis in compliance with an internationally-organized boycott of Israel. The ACLU opined that such a law would violate free speech rights under the First Amendment because punishment would be imposed on a U.S. person who had merely voiced agreement with a boycott.
The ACLU would never argue that federal civil rights statutes violate free speech. But, where the injured party is Israel, they suddenly detect a violation of the First Amendment. To my mind, this is not legal analysis. It is the advancement of a far-left agenda. And now the ACLU has made its bias even more blindingly obvious.
Last Thursday, the organization announced that it will no longer defend the constitutional rights of any group that publicly demonstrates with loaded firearms. On its website, the ACLU proudly proudly asserts, “Protecting free speech means protecting a free press, the democratic process, diversity of thought, and so much more. The ACLU has worked since 1920 to ensure that freedom of speech is protected for everyone.” It seems the word “everyone” has just taken on a new meaning.
The ACLU’s new stance is remarkable because it means the organization will refuse to defend the constitutional rights of armed demonstrators, even if those demonstrators are properly licensed to carry firearms. If some government — whether local, state or federal — decides to violate the free speech rights of demonstrators who are lawfully carrying weapons, the ACLU won’t object.
Demonstrators who are licensed to carry firearms rely on the Second Amendment, which provides that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Second Amendment substantially limits the rights of states and localities to impose gun control regulations. (I believe that the court was wrong in so holding, but the issue is quite complex. Anyone who is interested can find my paper on the constitutional question here.)
The ACLU’s new policy undoubtedly was stimulated by the recent disturbances in Charlottesville, where a young woman, Heather Heyer, was killed. It appears from the videotapes that the killing was intentional, and if it indeed was, it was a murder. It might also constitute a criminal violation of the civil rights of Heyer and the other people who were injured, and also a criminal act of terrorism. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating all these possible federal crimes, as it should.
However, Heyer and the other people who were injured alongside her were rammed by a speeding automobile. I have not read any reports of guns being fired in Charlottesville. Certainly, no one was killed by gunfire. One wonders whether, if the free speech rights of the driver of the car that killed Heyer were violated, the ACLU would represent him. He apparently was not carrying a firearm, so he seemingly would not be affected by the new ACLU policy.
The ACLU is a private organization and, as such, it can of course pick and choose the people it decides to represent in court. It has no legal obligation to represent anyone. But the unvarnished truth is that the organization cannot any longer pretend to be “the guardian of liberty.” It is very, very selective in the liberties it is willing to guard.
It hails itself as a defender of the right of “everyone” to free speech, but if you want to exercise that right while lawfully carrying a gun, don’t rely on the ACLU. It claims to defend religious freedom, but if you’re a baker whose religion does not allow you to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage celebration, you will find the ACLU on the other side of the courtroom representing the same-sex couple suing you. And the organization insists that it violates free speech to punish a businessperson for boycotting Israel, but it doesn’t violate free speech to punish a businessperson for boycotting people of a particular race, religion or ethnicity.
If the truth be told, the ACLU is the guardian of only those civil liberties that are at the present moment congenial to those on the far left of the political spectrum. No one should pretend otherwise. I believe this is a time when it is especially important to defend the First Amendment free speech rights of even the most repellent people among us, and the ACLU has just quit.
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