The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization whose original mission was to defend free speech, is currently facing internal divisions as adherence to liberal causes takes precedence over their support for the First Amendment.
Concern is mounting as progressivism comes into conflict with the ACLU’s original values, with many on the left fearing that free speech, rather than existing as a neutral value of a free society, is a vehicle by which those they disagree with can peddle hate and intolerance.
Others on the left have argued that the First Amendment is more frequently used by those who are seeking to maintain their current power, with Dennis Parker, the ACLU’s former director of the Racial Justice Program telling The New York Times “First Amendment protections are disproportionately enjoyed by people of power and privilege.”
David Goldberger, a Jewish lawyer who defended the free speech rights of Nazis in the 1970s, has become uneasy at the direction of the ACLU, voicing his concern that “Liberals are leaving the First Amendment behind,” and commenting that “I got the sense it was more important for ACLU staff to identify with clients and progressive causes than to stand on principle,” the New York Times reported.
Former Director of the ACLU Ira Glasser shared Goldberger’s concerns noting that there is a wealth of organizations advocating for “racial justice” and “immigrant rights,” but that “there’s only one ACLU that is a content-neutral defender of free speech. I fear we’re in danger of losing that,” in a quote to the New York Times.
The tone and mission of the ACLU have shifted significantly since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, having filed more than 400 lawsuits against his administration.
The tension at the ACLU highlights an ongoing theme within our society, with the once widely agreed-upon value of free speech as it is enshrined in our First Amendment becoming a deeply partisan topic.