The Commonwealth Iconoclast

A site dedicated to covering issues relevant to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nation at large, plus other interesting things too, as I see fit...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

ACLU: A Surprising Threat to American Civil Liberties

ACLU leadership threatens its own ideals!

Are the civil liberties of Americans safe when even the protectors of civil liberties fail their own mission?

The thing about America that is so great is our freedom. This freedom is guaranteed by our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Our American freedom is very special. Not only do we have great personal freedom; we also have the freedom to criticize and question our government when it gets out of line... for example when it starts trampling on our basic rights as human beings.

This freedom works at every level of government from the White House, through the halls of Congress, to the State Capitols, and down to the littlest County Courthouses and the quaint Town Halls that dot the landscape across the Commonwealth.

The government belongs to the people.

While most people in government in America are good people trying to do a good job, I think we all know that public service in America is not immune to the problems that arise from human frailties of judgment and character. Unfortunately, not everyone in governemnt turns out to be particularly honest, ethical or even competent.

The biggest threat to American civil liberties is usually seen in the behavior of public officials, both elected officials or bureaucrats, who get a little too big for their britches and let their positions go to their heads.

These are the public officials who harbor secret dreams of self-importance and the privileges of power. These are the ones don’t like to answer questions, who evade accountability, and who are not afraid of stepping on a few civil liberties if people start getting in the way of their misguided ambitions.

Readers of the Commonwealth Iconoclast know that we frequently find good examples of these kinds of bad public officials in all regions of Virginia, in every state in America and in our great nation’s capitol just across the Potomac River.

In the end, the final line of defense of our civil liberties is made up of the good people of America who challenge and question their government at all levels. We can do that in America because we don’t have to worry about the Gestapo peeping into our windows, kicking in our doors in the middle of the night and carrying us away to never be seen again.

That is the beauty of America. We the people are the real political power in America.

Now, with this backdrop out of the way... our story.

Helping us little people to keep our civil liberties safe is the American Civil Liberties Union, otherwise know as the ACLU.

The ACLU is an organization dedicated “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”

The ACLU is a sometimes controversial organization because it is known for taking on the unpopular causes of the “underdog” and others who may be outside of the mainstream of accepted behavior or thought. Gays, atheists, minorities, criminals… these are some examples of the kinds of people that the ACLU has been known to speak up for.

I don’t always agree with certain aspects of some of the ACLU causes. I am also somewhat critical of the ACLU in its apparent unequal concern for all of the Bill of Rights (some of those rights get scant attention).

But I do understand and appreciate that the ACLU practice of taking on the unpopular causes is a way of underscoring the basic message that everybody has rights in America even unpopular people.

For the most part, I support the ACLU as a legitimate champion for the protection of civil liberties in America. They are, in my mind, usually the “good guys” who stand up for the basic civil liberties for all Americans.

So, you may imagine my shock and horror at the recent report in The New York Times concerning the proposed new standards by the ACLU leadership that would fundamentally censor its own Board of Directors and employees.

Going further, USA Today provides additional details of the new standards in an OP/ED piece by Michael Meyers, Executive Director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition and former member and vice president of the ACLU board of Directors of New York.

The new standards include limiting media contact with the ACLU to its official press office, limiting what can be publicly said to only approved “talking points,” limiting what ACLU Board Members are permitted to say internally and externally to anyone, the imposition of a new draconian “official secrets policy” that goes beyond normal professional standards on all ACLU employees, and the monitoring of ACLU employee emails.

There are even reports that ACLU leadership withholds information critical to organizational governance from ACLU Board Members and restricts questioning by ACLU Board Members of the ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero without a vote of the Executive Committee as to whether the Director’s question is suitable.

Incredible! What good are Board Members who can't have information needed to govern and who can't ask questions?

Of course reasonable policies and professional standards are needed in any organization… even the ACLU. However, given the nature of some of these new standards combined with the loud cry of protests coming from individuals who are normally considered ACLU insiders and supporters, it seems that the current ACLU leadership may have taken a head-long dive down a slippery slope of hypocrisy or worse.

If Joseph Goebbels were here today, he would no doubt smile approvingly at how easy it still is for the "thought police" mentality to gain a foothold... even in America and even in an organization supposedly so dedicated to the protection of civil liberties.

Please, tell me it isn't so...


  • At 6/26/2006 2:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I wouldn't think the sky is falling in yet. The ACLU is no different than any other organization where you have a bunch of different people with ideas to match. This too will pass.

  • At 6/26/2006 3:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Maybe, but don't you find it a bit ironic that the ACLU is censoring free speech within their organization?

  • At 6/27/2006 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This story is all about the details. Many organizations monitor employee emails to prevent abuses. It is not appropriate to monitor emails just to spy on people. There may be a fine line between proper monitoring and improper spying.

    Also, in any law practice, confidentiality is the "golden rule" so an "offical secrets policy" may be ok if limited to matters relating to cases. It would not be appropriate to extend such a policy beyond the scope of active or past cases such as to opinions and views on broader issues relating to our world. Most progressive organizations encourage reasonable differences of views.

    I really don't have any good explanation of why board members may not be getting needed information or why they can't ask questions. The free flow of information between board members and administration is essential for effectiveness.

  • At 7/13/2006 10:48 PM, Anonymous RCLeach said…

    The ACLU is withdrawing the objectionable policy. See their website today. Cheers!

  • At 1/31/2007 10:19 AM, Blogger Will Vaught said…

    test, test


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