Since its founding in 1920, there has been much debate over whether the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) has benefited America. Liberals claim the ACLU has preserved the Constitution by defending liberty against government abuse and illegal policies. Conservatives argue that the ACLU is a threat to the United States, and that it uses the courts to subvert the Constitution, protect criminals, and attack religion. 1* In this post, I will discuss the Liberal perspective and in my following post I will discuss the Conservative viewpoint.
First, Liberals contend that the ACLU protects the rights of minority parties. Several examples include women’s right to have an abortion, religious rights, and achieving lesbian, transgender, and gay equality. According to Louise Melling, JD (director of ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project), the ACLU is fighting hard to prevent states from, “…blocking access to abortion for all but the most privileged, taking us back full circle to the pre-Roe days when the lack of access to legal, safe abortions devastated the lives of too many women and families.” 2.1*
Liberals believe the ACLU also strives to maintain a non-discriminatory stance towards all religions. Despite Conservative claims, Raul Cano states that, “The ACLU is not anti-religion, it just takes offense when the coercive forces of the state are used to push religion on the people of this country.” 2.2* Liberals claim that the ACLU strives to preserve religious freedoms by maintaining the separation between church and state. For example, the ACLU has strived to eliminate prayer in school. According to Dennis Challeen, the ACLU views “…the right to practice religion or no religion (as a) … fundamental freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, and the government must keep out of religion.” 3* The ACLU has effectively won the argument over prayer in school, but is still striving to separate church and state in other areas such as removing “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. 4*
Second, according to Liberals, the ACLU also protects individual rights. The ACLU was founded during a time of social unrest. “During this period, the ACLU played a pivotal role in creating a national debate on the problem of police misconduct.” 5* ACLU attorney Walter Pollak helped create, “…reforms to the criminal justice system, including the right to have one’s case immediately heard before a judge and the right to an attorney.” 5* The ACLU states, “Whether it’s achieving full equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people; establish protections for our digital age of widespread government surveillance; ending mass incarceration; or preserving the right to vote or the right to have an abortion; the ACLU takes up the toughest civil liberties cases and issues to defend all people from government abuse and overreach.” 2.3*
Finally, Liberals claim the ACLU has benefited the United States because they fight for the correct side on many important issues. For example, Liberals firmly believe in gun regulation; the ACLU also believes, “Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) protects a collective right (“a well-regulated militia”) rather than an individual right.” 6* As I discussed in a prior post about gun control, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of District of Columbia vs. Heller that the Second Amendment protects and individual right to a gun, at least for self-defense in the home. (SEE MY GUN CONTROL POST HERE) Additionally, the ACLU opposes capital punishment, claiming it is, “a violation of the constitutional ban against, ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ and impossible to make fair and just; that it denies due process and equal protection under the law.” 6* This has set the stage for a fight over policy changes such as President Trump’s plan to reauthorize water boarding and other forms of torture in the fight against terror. 7*
Unlike President Trump, Liberals believe protecting our civil liberties is more important than protecting our national security. Liberals’ claim that the government uses national security to infringe upon rights of individuals and to avoid transparency and to cover up situations where they acted improperly. By prioritizing civil liberties over national security, the ACLU helps prevent government abuse and overreach. According to Darren W. Davis from Michigan State University, “Liberals are less willing to trade off civil liberties than moderates or conservatives, but liberals converge toward the position taken by conservatives when their sense of the threat of terrorism is high.” 8*
In conclusion, Liberals claim that the ACLU has greatly benefited America since its founding in the 1920s. The ACLU protects both the rights of minority groups such as women’s reproductive freedoms and various religions and individuals including criminals’ right to a fair trial and an attorney. Liberals also argue that the ACLU fights on the correct side for many important issues, such as gun control and capital punishment.
2.3* ACLU Purpose