Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, has just written to me and thousands of her closest personal friends asking us to become “card-carrying” members of the ACLU. She explains: “There is no higher calling, nor greater reward, democracy can offer an individual than the opportunity to stand up for fundamental freedoms in trying times.”
True. Frustrating, however, is how the ACLU defines those fundamental freedoms. While fighting against intrusive government searches, the organization opposes measures to allow families to choose a better education for their kids. While opposing capital punishment, it fights any attempt to limit abortion, even near-infanticide through partial-birth abortion.
Much of what the ACLU does is unpopular, but this willingness to court unpopularity is one of its strengths. For instance, it has supported the grotesque North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) against a wrongful death lawsuit charging that group with responsibility in a boy’s rape and murder. The ACLU rightly worries about the precedent of claiming that monstrous behavior can be blamed on reading material, even offensive material, which does not advocate commission of the criminal act. The National Rifle Association, no less than NAMBLA, could find itself a target in such an action in the future.
Unfortunately, the ACLU fails to consider that many of the most emotional social conflicts could be most effectively resolved by shrinking the size and power of the State. The basic problem: the more activities carried out in the public square, the more intense the political fights over how those activities are carried out.
To wit, the public school monopoly ensures that a variety of political minorities will constantly be disappointed as changing majorities impose their values and preferences. Prayer, yes or no? Sex education, Pledge of Allegiance, abstinence or character training, drug tests, military recruitment, and more — yes or no?
Instead of fighting every issue before administrative bureaucrats, elected officials, and appointed judges, education should be placed outside of government control. At the very least, people should be able to choose — a favorite ACLU word — to escape from the present system.
However, the ACLU resolutely opposes attempts to do this. “Congress must not divert funds to a voucher program that is designed to help only a few students, leaving the vast majority behind,” says the ACLU of proposals for vouchers for kids in Washington, D.C. But every day the public schools leave those very same children behind.
The group opposes vouchers every where and every time, no matter how needy the students or how bad the schools. Cleveland, Florida, Milwaukee, Washington, D.C. — the ACLU would keep kids in institutions where they learn nothing and are sometimes killed instead of allowing government to provide vouchers which parents could — horrors! — spend at private religious schools. Yet religious parents are forced to pay for public schools which the ACLU is determined to prevent from ever mentioning religion.
Similarly, the ACLU went after the state of New Jersey for providing capital improvement grants to two Catholic high schools. Political pork, to be sure, but no different than grants to private secular schools. Or, frankly, secular public schools.
THE ACLU SUED the City of San Diego for allowing the Boy Scouts to rent 18 acres of a local park for a dollar. “Having gone to great lengths to convince the courts that they are a private religious organization with a constitutionally protected right to discriminate, the Boy Scouts cannot now turn around and ask the taxpayers of San Diego for a public subsidy,” argued Linda Hills, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego.
But the Boy Scouts are as worthy as — indeed, far worthier than — most groups seeking to use public lands. The fact that the Boy Scouts require members to believe in God (but not subscribe to any particular sectarian tenets) should not disqualify them from sharing in access to public property.
The ACLU is not asking for neutrality in the public square. It wants active hostility to religion. But fairness would require that government ban subsidies to all groups, including the local atheists. Or sell off the park instead of engaging in religious discrimination.
The limited nature of the organization’s commitment to “civil liberties” is well demonstrated by its position on abortion. It’s a nasty issue, one that requires a difficult balance between the life, liberty, and rights of two parties, mother and child. No one who holds freedom in high regard can feel fully comfortable with state intervention in such circumstances.
But freedom requires responsibility. And to exercise the choice of having sex requires being accountable for the consequences of creating a child. To say that one may have sex at any time with any one, but may destroy the resulting human life at any time and in any way, is licentiousness, not freedom.
The ACLU cannot even bring itself to accept restrictions on partial birth abortion, separated only by seconds from infanticide. Upon congressional passage of the latest measure to ban the procedure, the ACLU promised “an immediate legal challenge to the ban to protect women and their doctors.” But how about protecting the children?
So determined is the ACLU to promote abortion that it opposes allowing religious hospitals that collect tax dollars to refuse to carry out the procedure or to make abortion referrals. And it opposes making the killing of a fetus a crime. After all, the latter “is in reality a dangerous attempt to separate a woman from her fetus in the eyes of the law” — as if they are not in fact distinct human beings, each of unique moral value.
ALSO TROUBLING IS THE ACLU’s intervention in the “right-to-die” case of Terri Schindler Schiavo, who suffers from a debilitating brain injury. Her husband and parents disagree on her wishes and how best to carry them out.
One would normally rely upon a spouse’s decision, but Michael Schiavo may be thinking of more than his wife. (Money from a medical malpractice verdict was supposedly set aside for her care, which he now claims is exhausted; he waited until years after the malpractice verdict to claim that his wife had said she wanted no treatment in such circumstances; he is engaged to be married to a woman with whom he has had one child and has another one on the way.) So the Florida legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush acted to force doctors to reconnect her feeding tube. Now the Florida ACLU has jumped in on Michael Schiavo’s side to force his wife’s death.
It would be one thing to defend a person’s clearly expressed desire to choose death in such circumstances. It is quite another to step into the middle of a family dispute, whether or not state officials have intervened. After all, whose civil liberties among those of Terri Schindler Schiavo, her husband, and her parents should be protected, and how?
Join the ACLU? The organization works hard to stop censorship of speech, limit abusive government searches, and ensure proper criminal procedures. These things all need to be defended and defended stoutly.
But protecting these freedoms shouldn’t require locking kids in dangerous public schools that don’t teach, requiring religious taxpayers to fund public institutions and programs stripped of all religious values, and sacrificing the lives of children and the disabled in the name of choice. I’m afraid I’m not ready to join the ACLU just yet.
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