The ACLU and Community Interests
by Ted Rueter

The fundraising letter had impressive testimonials. Chief Justice Earl Warren said that the American Civil Liberties Union "stood foursquare against the recurring tirades of hysteria that from time to time threaten freedoms everywhere." Senator Adlai Stevenson was "glad the ACLU gets indignant, and I hope this will always be so." President Kennedy commented that "our nation needs the services of organizations who will remain vigilant in defense of our principles."

So why am I unwilling to become a "card-carrying member" of the ACLU? Me--a Clinton liberal, who organized anti-war demonstrations in junior high, who was a full-time summer volunteer for the 1972 McGovern campaign at the age of 15, who has voted for more socialists than Republicans, who spent ten years in Madison, Wisconsin?

The reason is simple. The contemporary ACLU embraces an extremely radical vision of "civil liberties." Since the great civil rights struggles appear to be over, the ACLU has turned its attention to trivia and nonsense. The great challenge of the late 1990s is to rebuild civil society, not to expand "liberties" without regard to their social consequences.

Take the recent example where the ACLU went to court in Long Beach, California to block a new school uniform rule. The organization charged that the city's poor can't afford to purchase uniforms. ACLU president Nadine Strossen called school uniforms "enforced conformity."

What the ACLU somehow missed is that school uniforms actually save the poor money, by eliminating the pressure to purchased expensive designed clothes, and that the Long Beach school district had committed itself to providing uniforms to any child needing one. More broadly, school uniforms have proven beneficial to students and society alike. In Long Beach, district officials report that fights, assault and battery, sex offenses, and robbery have all declined since the introduction of uniforms. Attendance has improved.

The ACLU also applies its reductio ad absurdum interpretation of the Constitution's equal protection clause to teen curfews. The president of a local ACLU chapter argues that "a curfew is not only an inappropriate instrument for dealing with young people, it is also an unconstitutional affront."

The ACLU tried to block San Diego's 11:00 pm teen curfew on the grounds that it would prohibit teenagers from attending a midnight Mass or late evening political rally. Judge Marilyn Huff noted, however, that the San Diego law has an exemption specifically allowing teens to be on the streets after 11:00 pm if they are engaged in political or religious activity. But the ACLU was more concerned with protecting its absurd interpretation of constitutional principles than with the community's legitimate interest in reducing crime.

Similarly, the ACLU has a socially irresponsible position on single-sex public schools. It was the lead opponent of the Virginia Military Institute. It has fought fiercely against specially designed single-gender schools elsewhere. In 1996, the New York City school district proposed an experimental public junior high school for girls, called the East Harlem Young Women's Leadership School. The school was intended to emphasize math and science and to allow young girls to attend school in an environment free of sexual pressures. As soon as the proposal was announced, Norman Siegel, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, wrote to the chancellor demanding that the school not open.

The ACLU also takes the concept of privacy (not even mentioned in the Constitution) to extremes. Because of a threatened lawsuit by the ACLU in 1996, students in Pennsylvania no longer have to take showers after gym class. More gravely, the ACLU has fought uniform HIV testing for newborns. While testing a baby for the AIDS-causing virus can prevent an unnecessary death, the ACLU claims such measures are an invasion of the mother's privacy. Writer Nat Hentoff, a former member of the ACLU's national board, resigned his membership to protest the organization's stance on this question.

Metal detectors in schools are also an invasion of privacy, according to the ACLU. The danger is real: a reported 135,000 children come to school each day with guns. The Southern California chapter of the ACLU even opposes expelling students caught carrying guns, however. They argue that expulsions may consign students "to a life even more disadvantaged than it might have been otherwise."

There are many other examples of the ACLU's radical individualism regarding privacy. They oppose drug testing for high school students. They obstruct drug searches in schools, prisons, and apartment buildings. They fight metal detectors at airports. They resist restraints on child pornography. They tie up in court anti-loitering ordinances aimed at reducing drug dealing.

The ACLU also has a bizarre interpretation of free speech. In 1994, a public school teacher in New York City was suspended for openly advocating sex with young boys. The ACLU claimed that the teacher, a member of the North American Man/ Love Boy Association, was being denied his free speech rights. Apparently, for the ACLU, any form of individual expression supercedes the interests of the community.

The same principle applies to red-light zones. New York Mayor Guiliani has undertaken a largely successful effort to rid Times Square of nude bars, peep shows, and massage parlors, consistent with the "broken windows" thesis (which finds that physical deterioration and unruliness in a neighborhood are a precursor to crime). "The Giuliani administration is trying to impose its morality on the rest of us," complained the ACLU's Siegel.

ACLU president Nadine Strossen, in her book, Defending Pornography:
Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights, extols the virtues of nude dancing. She quotes a letter from "Karen," a New York City stripper who is also "a first-year law student at one of the top law schools in the country." According to Karen:

Exotic dancing has been tremendously liberating for me. The first time I ever got up on stage and took off my clothes, I was terrified. But at some point I crossed a line after which I left forever a lifetime of feeling self-conscious about my naked body; left behind all the baggage of sexual inhibition civilized society had impressed upon me....For the woman who has crossed that line and embraced the taboo, she feels instead the thrill of empowerment.

Strossen's approving quotation of this passage demonstrates a woeful ignorance of the realities of the sex trade. While there is no doubt that some strippers find the experience exhilarating, it is a fact that many have been enmeshed in drug habits or sexual abuse. It is also true that strip clubs are linked to organized crime, prostitution, narcotics use, and declining property values. Municipalities are well within their rights to impose restrictions on such establishments.

And what is the ACLU's interpretation of the "establishment clause" of the First Amendment? The ACLU seems to believe that the Constitution provides Americans with freedom from religion, rather than freedom of religion. In one current case, the ACLU is insisting that a carving of the Ten Commandments be removed from an Alabama courtroom.

In another strange case, the ACLU went on the offensive against a high school biology teacher in a Pittsburgh-area school district who dared to utter the word "God." The teacher, Warrenn Kooi, states that his lecture presented alternatives to scientists' explanation of man emerging from the primordial ooze. "What I was trying to do was lay out the facts, and let them decide for themselves," he says.

The ACLU's extremism leads it to oppose any policies which it presumes to be in any way religiously based. In 1988, the California ACLU lobbied against a sex education bill in the state Senate on these grounds: "It is our position that teaching that monogamous, heterosexual intercourse within marriage is a traditional American value is an unconstitutional establishment of a religious doctrine in public schools."

Contemporary America is no longer beset by poll taxes, strip searches, censorship, all-white juries, Bull Connor's dogs, or "separate but equal." Our new agenda is a crisis of gangs, welfare dependency, illegitimacy, red-light districts, AIDS, and divorce.

The preamble to our Constitution speaks of serving "a more perfect union," "a common defense," and "the general welfare." The ACLU, meanwhile, is committed to an extreme interpretation of the Bill of Rights and a radical individualism that is contrary to the public good.

Published in The American Enterprise, July/ August 1997

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