November 21, 2005

Volokh on StoptheACLU Again

Nice to see Eugene Volokh once again taking StopTheACLU to task for their endorsement of the most banal rhetoric, comparing the ACLU to the KKK and to terrorists.

Posted by Ed at 10:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 17, 2005

Religious Right Hyperbole

This is the text of an email sent to members of a religious right group called Faith and Action in the Nation's Capital concerning the ACLU and engaging in the usual hyperbolic rhetoric we've come to know and loathe:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 /Christian Wire Service/ -- The Reverends Rob Schenck (pronounced SHANK) and Patrick J. Mahoney will visit ACLU headquarters today to hand-deliver more than 20,000 petitions demanding that the left-leaning liberal attack group back off of terrorizing communities and individuals who seek to affirm America's Judeo-Christian values.

Schenck, who heads up Faith and Action in the Nation's Capital, and Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, asked their respective members to sign the statements after the ACLU sued a small rural school district in Adams County, Ohio, over four displays of the Ten Commandments in front of public schools there. The ACLU won an order for the Commandments to be removed, then demanded that the school reimburse them for legal expenses. After Christian ministers in the community stepped forward with a pledge to replace the money taken from the school budget, the ACLU settled for $80,000.

"The ACLU is this generation's Ku Klux Klan," said Rev. Rob Schenck. "They gallop into small towns with legal hoods over their heads and terrorize good people by threatening to harm children by draining the coffers of local schools if they so much as dare to recognize our nation's true heritage. These ACLU bullies are nothing more than psychological terrorists."

The ridiculous thing is that there are people who actually take such absurd rhetoric seriously.

Posted by Ed at 01:59 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 19, 2005

Charges Against Street Preacher Dropped

Shawn Miller stopped by the blog last evening to let us know that the charges against him have been dropped. The prosecutor decided not to pursue the case. He left the text of an email from the ACLU counsel. It reads:

Dear Shawn,

Good news:

The D.A. issue a “nolle prosequi” in your case, which means she “will no further prosecute” it (you may hear it called a “NO LE PROS”). More informally, it is generally taken to mean that a district attorney either did not feel pursuing the case was in the interest of justice or that there wasn’t enough there substantively to pursue it. Technically, they retain the right to re-charge you at some point, but that is highly unlikely in your situation.
I can fax you a copy of the document if you need – and will mail you one today.

At some point, I will take a look at the NM law to see when exactly, we can also request that your arrest record be expunged so that you are not dealing with even that in terms of background checks. But for now, you are currently free of all charges, pending trials, bail, etc.

I have various meetings this evening, but please give me a call tomorrow at work or let me know when a good time to call you is.

Best regards,
George Bach
Staff Attorney - ACLU of New Mexico

Good news indeed. Now if only they could find a way to compensate him for the 109 days he spent in jail for speaking his mind. Congratulations, Shawn.

Posted by Ed at 11:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 15, 2005

Preacher's Trial Date Set

Shawn Miller stopped by here last night and left a comment with a link to this story about his trial. Miller, you may remember, is a street preacher who is being defended by the ACLU in New Mexico after being arrested and spending more than 3 months in jail on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest when a police officer tried to stop him from standing and preaching on an empty street corner. This is one of hundreds of examples of the ACLU defending the religious freedom and free speech rights of Christians. Contrary to the lies told by the religious right, when it doesn't involve government sponsorship or endorsement of religion the ACLU has been very consistent in defending the expression of religious viewpoints in the public square.

Posted by Ed at 11:23 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 21, 2005

ACLU Defending Religious Freedom Again

If the goal of the ACLU is to destroy Christianity and drive all religion from the public square, as so many fevered demagogues on the right would have us believe, they sure are doing a lousy job of it. They're so incompetent at it that they keep defending the rights of individuals to express their religious views in public (as opposed to government endorsement of them, a distinction that the demagogues like to pretend doesn't exist). Here's the latest example:

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey announced that it filed a motion yesterday to participate as amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) in a case seeking to uphold the right of an elementary school student to sing a religious song in a voluntary, after-school talent show.

"There is a distinction between speech by a school and speech by individual students," stated ACLU-NJ cooperating attorney Jennifer Klear of Drinker, Biddle & Reath in New York City. "The Constitution protects a student's individual right to express herself, including the right to express herself religiously."

According to the complaint filed by the second-grade student and her parents, an elementary school in Frenchtown prohibited the student, Olivia Turton, from singing the song "Awesome God" in a voluntary, after-school talent show. The talent show was open for anyone from first through eighth grades who wished to play solo instruments, dance, perform a skit or sing to karaoke. Students were permitted to select their own songs or skits so long as they were G-rated.

"Because the school left the choice of songs up to each individual student, no reasonable observer would have believed that the school affirmatively endorsed the content of each student's selection," Klear added. "Therefore, it would not constitute a violation of the separation of church and state. Rather, it's an issue of religious freedom."

"The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has dedicated itself to protecting the right of individual religious expression, including recently helping to ensure that jurors are not removed from jury pools for wearing religious clothing and that prisoners are able to obtain religious literature," noted ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. "This student also deserves our full support."

In an ironic sidenote, this lawsuit was filed by the Alliance Defense Fund, a group whose leader, Alan Sears, has just published a book called ACLU vs. America, claiming that the ACLU is intent on destroying religion to establish a nation “with little or no public vestige left of religious faith and the traditional family." Oh heck, why let a little thing like reality get in the way of a perfectly good boogeyman story?

Posted by Ed at 01:01 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

August 28, 2005

ACLU Defends Another Street Preacher

I want to call my readers' attention to this comment left by Shawn Miller, a preacher from New Mexico who spent 109 days in jail for preaching on a street corner. The ACLU of New Mexico intervened at the request of Miller's wife and they managed to get the preacher released from jail, where he has been held for nearly 4 months:

“Mr. Miller has a guaranteed right to stand on a street corner and proclaim his faith in God to all who pass by,” said ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson. “He wasn’t harassing or intimidating anyone. He certainly should not have spent time under lock and key for such a minor incident.” The ACLU became involved after Miller’s wife, Theresa, sent a letter requesting assistance. She and her two children had been with Miller on April 17 when he was arrested by Portales police for “disorderly conduct.” Miller had been preaching in the lot of an abandoned gas station that is commonly used by street vendors.

“I was preaching the word of God and not hurting anybody,” said Miller.

This is just another example of the ACLU defending the religious liberty of Christians, contrary to the fevered and hyperbolic rhetoric of the anti-ACLU crowd that the ACLU is just anti-Christian and wants to "remove religion from the public square."

Posted by Ed at 02:18 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 23, 2005

StopTheACLU Peddles False Quotes

Our fevered friends at StopTheACLU have issued a "Code Red Alert" because the ACLU is trying to get the courts to allow people of different religions to be able to swear on something other than the Bible when taking an oath in court (they don't have specific links, so you'll have to scroll about halfway down to find it). They've filed suit in North Carolina, which forbids people from taking an oath in court on anything other than the Bible. And naturally, the anti-ACLUers are up in arms over it. And their reasoning is quite amusing:

We are a Judeo-Christian country, not a Muslim one. The facts are not in dispute. America was founded on the Judeo-Christian faith. It is estimated that 52 of the 55 signers of the Declaration of Independence were Christian men. Many of them encouraged the Bible to be taught in classrooms (to the chagrin of the ACLU).

First of all, there is no "Judeo-Christian faith". Judaism and Christianity are separate religions. Christians have faith in Christ, Jews do not. Second, the ACLU's suit actually seeks to allow Jews to swear on the Hebrew scriptures rather than on a Christian bible that contains a New Testament that they reject entirely. They want to focus only on Muslims swearing on the Quran because, well, Muslims are the current bad guys. But the ACLU's position is broader than that and would also allow Jews, Hindus and other religions to not have to swear an oath on a book they reject. Thirdly, there were no public schools at the time of our founding. But wait, it gets better:

If you have any such doubt, I encourage you to visit this site for the many quotations of our Founders and note what the Father of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison, stated "We’ve staked the future of all our political institutions upon our capacity...to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."(NOT the Koran, ACLU).

How many different ways can one passage be idiotic? Let us count them. First, the quote is completely fictitious. Madison never said it and that has long been acknowledged even by David Barton. It is one of about a dozen fake quotes that have been passed around for decades now based on Barton's work despite his public letter admitting they are false. The webpage that they suggest you link to contains almost all of the other fake quotes too, including this Patrick Henry fake quote with an amusing attribution:

"It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here." [May 1765 Speech to the House of Burgesses]

This quote is usually passed along without any specific citation, but this is the second one I've seen. The first one only said that it was in response to the Stamp Act, which was also in 1765 but not until October, so this can't be referring to that. The obvious problem, the thing that should tell anyone with even a 5th grade understanding of American history that the quote cannot possibly be authentic, is that there was no nation in 1765. How could Patrick Henry possibly have referred to "this nation" 11 years before we even declared independence? We were still British colonies at the time, not a nation, and we certainly hadn't been "founded" as a nation yet. And there was little "freedom to worship" in the colonies in 1765 as most colonies had established churches. Even funnier, they actually have two entirely different versions of the same Madison quote! And for crying out loud, it even has quotes from Thomas Paine ostensibly supporting the notion of America as a "Christian nation"! Anyway, back to the Madison "quote"...

Second, Muslims accept the Ten Commandments, as they accept all of the Torah as being divinely inspired. The 5 books of Moses are scripture to a Muslim just as much as the Quran is.

Most importantly, the anti-ACLUers don't seem to have thought this through very well. The whole notion behind swearing an oath, and this goes way back even to John Locke, is that if someone swears an oath to their God they are more likely to be honest because they know that their God will punish them if they're not. The fear of eternal punishment allegedly keeps them in line (which is nonsense, but that's the premise). But if you force, say, a Hindu person to swear an oath on the Bible, you are already forcing them to be dishonest right from the start. So the whole purpose of having an oath is defeated if they are swearing to a God they don't believe in. But these Christian Supremacists don't really care about things like honesty, they just want you to have to pay homage to their beliefs.

Posted by Ed at 10:50 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

August 11, 2005

Dishonest Political Opposition

Radley Balko is picking up where Eugene Volokh left off the other day, blasting StopTheACLU for its utterly dishonest portayral of ACLU positions. StopTheACLU hammers the ACLU for turning down money from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations rather than sign a statement declaring that they have no involvement with anyone on a terrorist watch list. But as Balko notes, the ACLU can't do that because they represent people who are on the terrorist watch list and shouldn't be. And given that the FBI has admitted that the watch list contains innumerable errors and that they no longer have any control over who gets put on it, it's a good thing someone represents those who are unjustly placed on it. So the ACLU is actually being honest here and taking a huge financial hit because of it. That should be applauded. Only the delusional extremists at StopTheACLU, who seem to think that anyone who dares to question anything the government does in the war on terrorism is a traitor and a terrorst themselves, could turn that into something negative.

Here's one great example of how many Americans have lost their right to travel as a result of the mistakes on this no fly list. I have a friend who had this happen to her and her husband. They are an elderly couple, and her husband was actually a holocaust survivor, but somehow they got deemed a terrorist threat and put on the no fly list and they were prevented from going to Germany to sell some property they owned there. Their orderal carried on for months before they got their name cleared.

And on the other side of the political spectrum, we have the highly dishonest ad from NARAL about John Roberts. Factcheck.org has a thorough takedown of this obnoxious piece of deceit. Roberts argued before the court that an 1871 KKK law could not be applied to abortion protestors, but that does not mean he was "defending clinic bombers". The case did not involve any bombing, but only protesting, and the relevant issue was not whether what they did was okay but whether a particular Federal law applied in the case. Roberts quite carefully pointed out that the defendants were still culpable under state law and should be held so. It's simply dishonest to imply that Roberts "excuses violence" or to try and tie him, as this ad does, to Eric Robert Rudolph's clinic bombing that took place 7 years after the case in question.

Posted by Ed at 09:14 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 06, 2005

Volokh on StoptheACLU.com

One of the standard arguments we hear from the Hate the ACLU crowd is that the ACLU is that they are "getting rich on taxpayer money" because, in some cases, Federal law allows plaintiffs who sue government agencies successfully to recover their legal fees. It's an argument based primarily on ignorance, of course, because most cases in which the ACLU represents the plaintiffs, the case is handled not by ACLU attorneys but by law firms who work pro bono. In the Dover, PA "intelligent design" case, for example, the ACLU is representing the plaintiffs but the actual legal work is being handled by the prominent Philadelphia firm of Pepper and Hamilton, and they are doing it pro bono. Now, if they win that case they can make a motion to have the defendents, in this case the Dover school board, pay their legal costs and they might get it. But if they lose the case, or lose the motion to be awarded costs, this law firm will have to eat untold billable hours for an entire staff of attorneys in a major Federal lawsuit that will likely amount to well over a million dollars. Either way, the ACLU doesn't get any money from it. But why let facts stand in the way of perfectly good demagoguery?

So our pals at StoptheACLU.com published a typical example of this argument the other day with a post about a group called Christians Reviving America's Values asking Congress to investigate the ACLU because the ACLU has filed suit against New York for their new policy of random searches on NY subways. Their leader, Donald Swarthout, delivers the typically hysterical screed:

If the ACLU wins this battle in court they will receive a very large financial boost as they have from similar 'victories' in San Diego, Alabama and Virginia. When the ACLU wins their attorneys are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by tax-payers.

The never ceasing flow of litigation against cities, states, and the federal government is nothing more than fund-raising stunts. Many of the ACLU’s victories come not because their complaint is just, but because the municipality budget is inadequate to match the abusive onslaught.

In New York, apparently the ACLU believes these searches are unconstitutional because they are random. Although the ACLU has also called metal detectors in airports an invasion of privacy. There is no pleasing the ACLU, because improving society or protecting the rights of American citizens is no longer its goal.

Now the ACLU is coming against the Constitutional duty of the United States government which requires the protection of citizens. What is in question here is the definition of freedom. Freedom comes with responsibility. The ACLU has become an anti-Christian, pro-terrorist, entity whose only goal is to get the headlines to keep donations rolling in.

The ACLU’s abuse of the legal system is criminal. For that reason Christians Reviving America’s Values is drafting a letter asking the US Congress to investigate the ACLU for widespread use of frivolous lawsuits.

Eugene Volokh, himself a relatively conservative law professor and hardly a big fan of the ACLU, has written a thorough reply to this silliness. He writes:

By filing lawsuits, the ACLU is exercising its (and its clients') legal rights and its (and its clients') constitutional rights: The Petition Clause, which protects the right to petition courts for redress of what one perceives as grievances. One may disagree with them. One may try to change the legal doctrines under which they're suing (by Congressional action, by persuading the courts to change the constitutional rules, or for that matter by constitutional amendment) to keep the ACLU from willing. One may call for changes to statutes that give prevailing plaintiffs in some civil rights actions the right to recover attorneys' fees, though I'm skeptical about that. But there's nothing remotely "criminal" about the ACLU's actions.

Filing an outright frivolous complaint -- which is to say one that is not "warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous [i.e., legally plausible] argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law or the establishment of new law" -- is punishable. One can already get sanctions for the filing of such frivolous complaints. But I know of no systematic pattern of the ACLU's filing such frivolous complaints.

In fact, my sense is that most of the criticism that the ACLU faces comes because their arguments are too successful -- not only nonfrivolous, but actually ones that win in court. If the ACLU only filed complaints that were such clear losers to be frivolous, they wouldn't much bother people: At most, they'd waste some government lawyers' time, but since government entities tend to have lawyers on salary (and generally not very high salary), they wouldn't even waste much government money. In those frivolous cases, the government would fight the ACLU, win (by definition, since if the government lost, the case wouldn't be frivolous), and even get sanctions against the ACLU.

But in fact the ACLU often wins, and even when it doesn't, its arguments are generally quite plausible. For instance, the claim that random searches of people in subways are unconstitutional is an eminently plausible Fourth Amendment claim, perhaps even a winning one. Searches that aren't based on any individualized suspicion are usually unconstitutional; even some conservative Justices have said so. (See, e.g., City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000) (Thomas, J., dissenting) ("I rather doubt that the Framers of the Fourth Amendment would have considered 'reasonable' a program of indiscriminate stops of individuals not suspected of wrongdoing."); Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366 (1993) (Scalia, J., concurring) (expressing "doubt" as to whether even suspicion-based searches for weapons are constitutional, unless the suspicion rises to the relatively high level of "probable cause": "I frankly doubt, moreover, whether the fiercely proud men who adopted our Fourth Amendment would have allowed themselves to be subjected, on mere suspicion of being armed and dangerous, to such indignity").

There are some exceptions, including one for airport searches. Perhaps courts should extend this exception to subway searches, especially aimed at finding bombs. But given the current law, the ACLU's argument is eminently credible...

But stop calling them "criminal" for exercising their constitutional rights. Stop calling their lawsuits "frivolous" when the lawsuits bother you precisely because they may well prevail. Stop calling them "pro-terrorist" when there's absolutely no reason to think that they indeed favor terrorism, and lots of reason to think that they favor (whether soundly or misguidedly) legal rules -- such as limits on government power to search -- that unfortunately sometimes protect terrorists while at the same time protecting law-abiding citizens. (It's far from clear to me that random searches are going to do much good at stopping suicide bombers, or that bans on random searches will help terrorists; but I acknowledge that some constitutional rules that the ACLU defends do at times protect terrorists as well as protecting law-abiding citizens.)

Well said, Professor Volokh. He also points out in another post just how much dishonest nonsense there is about the ACLU. One commenter in reply to the above post wrote that the ACLU had "stood silent through decades of speech codes and 'verbal harassment' regulations on American campuses, all aimed toward non-liberal voices." But this is simply nonsense. In fact, the ACLU filed suits in two Federal court cases that struck down college hate speech codes, one involving the University of Michigan and the other the University of Wisconsin, and they also filed briefs on behalf of the plaintiffs in the first appeals court case to strike down a college hate speech code, that one involving George Mason University. And the ACLU's official position condemns hate speech codes.

And best of all, here is the sum total of StoptheACLU's response to Volokh's detailed, factual and well thought out reply:

Mr. Eugene Volokh of the highly traffic (sic) site the Volokh Conspiracy very much disagrees with Stop The ACLU On This Post. Whoopdie Doo!

Yeah, that's the way to get people to take your views seriously. It really does seem as though the ignorance and dishonesty of the Hate the ACLU crowd has no bottom to it.

Posted by Ed at 04:31 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

June 20, 2005

ACLU Defends Religious Liberty Yet Again

The ACLU is planning to appeal a Federal judge's ruling in Nevada that upheld a Clark County school rule banning religious messages on students' clothing:

"We said from the very beginning this is a decision that would be made at the Court of Appeals," Nevada ACLU lawyer Allen Lichtenstein said Thursday.

Lichtenstein said he will appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco...

The ACLU argues that federal constitutional issues are at stake. It filed the case in October representing high school junior Kim Jacobs. She was suspended at Liberty High School in Las Vegas in September for wearing shirts bearing religious symbols.

This is of course one of innumerable cases where the ACLU has fought for the free exercise rights of public school students. Around the country, they have defended the rights of public school students to organize bible clubs that use school facilities, hand out religious literature to their fellow students and wear religious clothing at school. Sure does seem like odd behavior for a group that the religious right continually claims is out to eliminate religion and oppress Christians.

Posted by Ed at 09:28 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

June 08, 2005

ACLU Defends Street Preachers in Las Vegas

Anyone who has spent any time in Vegas - and let's just say I've been there a time or ten - has run the porno gauntlet down the strip having fliers for escort services and strip clubs shoved into their hands. But Jim Webber and Tom Griner can also be found among them, holding signs with messages like "Jesus died for your sins". That is, until they got arrested a couple of weeks ago for violating a city ordinance against holding signs up that are wider than your body. And guess who is defending these preachers? The ACLU. And rightfully so. And this is a great example of how the anti-ACLU crowd handles information that runs contrary to their "the ACLU hates Christians" message. Here's what StopTheACLU had to say about it:

OK, ACLU backers, we concede, you're doing a good deed by supporting these Las Vegas street preachers. A miracle indeed. But what else are you currently doing to protect religious freedom, our moral infrastructure and national security in America?

But in fact, there isn't anything miraculous about this. The ACLU does it all the time. In fact, this isn't even the first time they've fought on behalf of street preachers in Las Vegas. In 1993, the ACLU won a lawsuit declaring the sidewalks in Vegas to be an open forum on behalf of labor protestors they were defending and they have repeatedly come to the defense of street preachers using that same ruling in their defense:

Early this year, however, it became clear that casinos, private security companies and some police officers weren’t aware of the ruling – or were choosing to ignore it. Casino security repeatedly told the preachers that they were on private property and had to leave. Police officers insisted that the preachers move even after the preachers produced copies of the court opinion. Griner was even cited with obstruction, a misdemeanor, for blocking the sidewalk.

Griner and fellow preacher Jim Webber began videotaping their encounters with security personnel and police officers. Peck and Allen Lichtenstein, Nevada ACLU’s general counsel, became a free-speech SWAT team, descending on the Strip on a moment’s notice to make impassioned, impromptu arguments that the preachers could stay – confrontations that drew crowds of curious tourists.

Nor is this close to the first time the ACLU has defended street preachers around the country. The Indiana Civil Liberties Union has defended Pastor John Lewis, a street preacher who delivers rambling sermons against homosexuality and abortion, two issues on which the ACLU disagrees with him completely. The ACLU of Washington has fought on behalf of street preachers who asserted a right to preach on the Plaza in downtown Spokane. In Virginia, the ACLU has defended the right of the Cornerstone Baptist Church to use state park property for performing baptisms.

And this just scratches the surface. Yet to listen to StopTheACLU, it's only happened once and it was a "miracle". Sorry, that's nonsense. This is something the ACLU does every single day around the country. I know it's not convenient for the picture they're trying to paint of an organization out to destroy Christianity, but it has the great benefit of being true.

Posted by Ed at 05:56 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Upcoming Series on the ACLU

As many of my longtime readers know, I am generally a supporter of the ACLU. That doesn't mean I support everything they've ever done or will do - I do think they take on some cases that are pointless and even damaging to the cause of liberty - but on the whole, I think it's a very valuable organization that has done much to keep America free. And I occassionally find myself being even more supportive of them just because many of the attacks on them that come from the right are so utterly dishonest and emotionally overwrought. The ACLU has become the favorite whipping boy of the religious right, and as I've documented many times they often engage in outright lies to distort the record of the ACLU.

You all know the familiar rhetoric - that the "American Communist Lawyers Union" or the "Anti-Christian Lawyers Union" or whatever other quasi-clever acronym solution they've come up with this time, are out to "destroy Christianity" and "drive religion from the public square". The halfwits at the Worldnutdaily have called them worse than terrorists, Bill O'Reilly says they're the most dangerous group in America, and Jerry Falwell says they're to blame for 9/11. This ridiculously shrill rhetoric never fails to win applause from the mob, but more often than not it's backed up by distortions at best and outright lies at worst. There are dozens of blogs that do almost nothing but bash the ACLU, most notable StopTheAclu. So I have decided to do a series of posts countering the most common anti-ACLU rhetoric. This will be an ongoing series, so I have given it its own category. So stay tuned for more of that. But first, I must finish my long essay on Clarence Thomas' establishment clause interpretation, which is only about half finished.

Posted by Ed at 11:42 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack