Did you realize that Jan. 19 marks the 100th birthday of that indefatigable advocacy group the American Civil Liberties Union?
People have a visceral reaction to the inescapable headlines about the ACLU; you either love it or hate it. (As in “Yay! I’m being protected from racial profiling” versus “But I didn’t KNOW using the Lord’s name around a SCHOOL of fish was a violation of the separation of church and state!”)
For a full century, the group has worked tirelessly to defend the Constitution of the United States. Of course, their courting of activist judges shows they view it as a “living document” (unless its mommy doesn’t want it living anymore).
The ACLU wants everyone to enjoy human dignity and breathe freely. (“If your breathing is a tad nonexistent, we can still file an injunction and get you a voter registration card.”)
The nonprofit organization undeniably leans to the left, but its role in society is much more nuanced than that.
Yes, the ACLU supports affirmative action, adoptions by LGBTQ parents, the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling and bans on school-sanctioned prayers. But it has also worked with the National Rifle Association to prevent creation of a national gun registry, supported the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC (which allowed corporations and unions more political speech rights) and opposes state censorship of Confederate flags.
Is there a single American who doesn’t owe at least a GRUDGING “thank you” to the ACLU, whether it be for the Miranda rights of the accused, more humane treatment of mental illness or attempts to apply the brakes to a government surveillance state?
No one should automatically think of the ACLU as “the enemy,” because we never know when we might have to go running to them for help. (Running - and hopping over the sidewalk piles of excrement left by transient ACLU clients, but running nonetheless.)
We’re not really a nation of ingrates. It’s just that, to some segments of society, the ACLU seems to be photo-bombing every single issue more serious than the color of the dog catcher’s badge. Besides volunteers, they employ nearly 300 staff lawyers. As the saying goes, “When your only tool is 300 lawyers, every job starts to look like 300 lawsuits.”
Citizens outside the groups most often catered to by the ACLU are glad the organization did the heavy lifting on certain labor laws or housing laws 10, 25, 50 years ago. But right now, they view them like a hazmat team that cleans up a nuclear power plant meltdown and then hangs around indefinitely to nitpick. (“You’re not going to leave that paper clip lying around at an OCD-triggering angle, are you, dude?”)
Sometimes the ACLU does get a little overzealous, as in its unbridled push for immigrant rights – bending over backward for the alien who harvests your lettuce, the alien who raises your kids, the alien who pops out of your chest... (“Don’t worry. We’ve gotten a restraining order against Sigourney Weaver!”)
But, seriously, folks - I’m glad the ACLU exists. It would be a scary world if any single viewpoint ran roughshod over everything else.
The ACLU has been part of the “give and take” of American life for a century, and I hope it’s still here in another hundred years. Maybe I’ll vote to give them a bicentennial grant. Twice.
Danny welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”