ACLU’s uneasy relationship with free speech

Chris Potts writes at the Federalist website about a curious disconnect between the American Civil Liberties Union‘s rhetoric and its actions.

Well, now, here’s a curious thing for the American Civil Liberties Union to post on its very own website. One almost wonders if their attorneys know it’s up there.

Under “Freedom of Expression in the Arts and Entertainment,” the ACLU says “a free society is based on the principle that each and every individual has the right to decide what art or entertainment he or she wants – or does not want – to receive or create.”

Precisely. Simple, clear, common sense. It’s also exactly what graphic designers, photographers, and floral and cake artists across America have been saying for years in trying to defend themselves against ACLU attorneys and their allies.

It’s a puzzle. If, in fact, “each and every individual” has the right to artistic self-determination, shouldn’t Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, Elaine Huguenin, Barronelle Stutzman, and Jack Phillips have that right? Shouldn’t the ACLU be advocating for these artists’ freedom — instead of applauding, and in some cases, spearheading, efforts to destroy them?

How to explain the double standard? Again, going by their website, the ACLU certainly grasps the dangerous implications for all Americans of allowing the government to persecute an artist who chooses to “just say no.” It states: “Once you allow the government to censor someone else, you cede to it the power to censor you, or something you like. Censorship is like poison gas: a powerful weapon that can harm you when the wind shifts.”

Yup, that’s usually the way it happens. Once the precedent is established that it’s perfectly okay to use the law to “beat up” on people whose views you don’t agree with, it’s just a matter of waiting to see with whom we all disagree this week, next month, and next year. …

… Recognizing how fickle public tastes and social mores can be, the ACLU website stresses how important it is that we conscientiously protect the civil rights of all American artists, whatever their views: “Freedom of expression for ourselves requires freedom of expression for others. It is at the very heart of our democracy.”

But not quite at the heart of the ACLU itself, whose cardiac regions grow unaccountably cold at the prospect of defending the freedom of artists whose creative decisions are grounded in beliefs that ACLU attorneys find hard to fathom. In those cases, it seems, ACLU attorneys, like Orwell’s swine, hold that: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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