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ACLU Talks A Big Game About Free Speech While Attacking It Unrelentingly


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.

Are Rights Really Inalienable to the ACLU?

Social sensibilities, after all, are as changeable as the weather. Most everyone can agree for thousands of years that, say, marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Then, overnight, acceptance of same-sex unions suddenly becomes The Standard by which we measure every citizen’s tolerance, enlightenment, and…entitlement to freedom of speech and religion.

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.”

The philosophical disconnect is apparently okay with the people who recently flooded ACLU coffers with $24 million in a single weekend. In fact, as this video shows, the organization’s double standard echoes that of many ordinary citizens who are all too eager to protect the artistic freedom of those with whose politics or religion they agree (or can sympathize), but not the civil rights of Christian artists, whose faith is increasingly portrayed as either bigoted or passé.

The ACLU Pretends It’s Nobly Above Partisanship

But popular opinion isn’t supposed to influence the ACLU, whose legend, going back to Clarence Darrow days, is that no cause or person can be too anathema to merit the heroic efforts of an ACLU attorney. The ACLU website still brags how, in 1978, when neo-Nazis wanted to march through Skokie, Illinois—a Chicago suburb then home to many Holocaust survivors—the ACLU defended the group’s free speech rights against a hurricane of outrage and opposition.

Yet today we have Barronelle Stutzman, a grandmother, small-town floral designer, and reluctant folk hero, taking it on the chin from this same organization, whose website makes her case nearly as well as her own lawyers. Then there are the two young graphic designers in Arizona whom the ACLU went to the trouble of asking a trial court to please let them oppose.

Clearly, the ACLU doesn’t agree with Barronelle’s beliefs or those of Joanna and Breanna. (It probably didn’t agree with the Nazis’, either.) But Christian artists, unlike Nazis, just don’t inspire the ACLU attorneys’ commitment to principle or warrant their protection.

This highly selective approach makes a giant Jenga game out of the Constitution. How to remove freedom of expression for a few without making free speech a lot more wobbly for everyone? How to keep the First Amendment upright while pushing an agenda that says an artist must choose between free exercise of her religion and making a living? The ACLU website doesn’t say.

Your Actions Speak Louder than Words

A friend of mine used to live next door to an acclaimed psychiatrist. They often passed the time sharing observations on the human condition. Understanding what makes people tick isn’t really that difficult, the psychiatrist said. “Ignore what they say. Watch what they do.”

ACLU attorneys are hardly the only ones to face the discrepancy between their words and their actions. Planned Parenthood has made countless millions of dollars by telling people it’s about family planning while building itself into the nation’s most unrelenting abortion mill. Offering the public two faces for the price of one is a shortcut to fame, fortune, and political leverage.

Still, it’s always sad when people get the words so right and the actions so wrong. By the time you read this, ACLU officials may have edited the copy on their website. If only they could revisit their old ideals instead, and reclaim the integrity that once let them defend people’s expressive freedom—even when they didn’t care for the message.