ACLU fights dirty little battles for all of us
By Durwood McAlister Atlanta Journal 06-05-83
The trouble with the ACLU is that it's always hanging out in bad company.
Every time it pops up in the news lately it seems to be yoked with undesirables in a battle against the will of the majority.
Its "have-lawyer-will travel" approach to guarding our liberties has taken it into court on behalf of the Ku Klux Klan, communists, atheists and convicted felons. It has found itself arguing against state sponsorship of Christian symbols, against prayer in schools and for the right of robed Klansmen to march down the main street of College Park.
That's not the kind of client list, nor the issues, that any reputable law firm would be pleased to claim.
As a matter of fact, the American Civil Liberties Union - given a choice - would happily share the burden with others. Unfortunately, no one else is clamoring to take on the unpopular causes and unsavory clients.
So why not just let them go unrepresented? Because, in every case, however unpopular or trivial, there is a potential threat to all our freedoms.
The ACLU stands with Klansmen and atheists and communists because their rights must be protected if our rights are to be secure.
The ACLU knows that the battle to reserve the freedoms we all cherish is seldom fought on the high, level parade grounds we would choose.
Liberty is lost in the swamps and thickets, in the dirty little skirmishes where the flag waving, slogan-shouting right-thinking majority overwhelms the rights of the unlovely misfits who are society's outcasts.
Fred W. Friendly, in his book "Minnesota Rag," offers an instructive example of just how important those dirty little skirmishes can be.
He tells the story of the "Saturday Press," an offensive, anti-Semitic, irresponsible scandal sheet in Minneapolis which was restrained from publishing in 1927 by a judge acting under a Minnesota "public nuisance" law.
The ACLU took the case on behalf of publisher Jay M. Near, arguing that restraint before publication was a violation of constitutional guarantees of a free press. The major newspapers in Minnesota scoffed at the fears of the ACLU. One noted, "The Civil Liberties Union will no doubt make a great pother about the freedom of the press, but the legitimate newspapers will be rather bored than excited about it.'
The case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, who ruled in Near's favor. The decision was the key precedent cited by the Court 40 years later when it rejected President Richard Nixon's attempt to prevent publication of the Pentagon Papers.
There was a world of difference between the powerful New York Times and Washington Post and the offensive scandalmonger Jay Near; but the same principle of law applied equally to both.
That is the lesson the friendless warriors of the ACLU never forget. It is one we all need to remember.
Nothing could exemplify the ACLU's uncompromising fealty to principal and intellectual honesty than this:
Nigel Watson freethinker 727.493.1990 freesense@Gmail.com
"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." – Krishnamurti
-A good pun is its own reword.