Another Failing Institution?


Robby Soave has a post over at Reason that deals with a movement within the American Civil Liberties Union to move away from their century-long-held principle of robust support for the First Amendment.

“Our defense of speech may have a greater or lesser harmful impact on the equality and justice work to which we are also committed,” wrote ACLU staffers in a confidential memo obtained by former board member Wendy Kaminer.

It’s hard to see this as anything other than a cowardly retreat from a full-throated defense of the First Amendment.

If it’s true, I find not only worrisome but also disappointing. The ACLU has been a valuable ally in the opposition to legislation here in Maryland that would gag the Internet by making speech that hurt the feelings of a minor punishable by upto three years in prison. If the ACLU were to switch sides on that, a bill would certainly pass our legislature.

It seems fairly clear to me what’s happening here. Leadership would probably like the ACLU to remain a pro-First Amendment organization, but they would also like to remain in good standing with their progressive allies. Unfortunately, young progressives are increasingly hostile to free speech, which they view as synonymous with racist hate speech. Speech that impugns marginalized persons is not speech at all, in their view, but violence. This is why a student Black Lives Matter group shut down an ACLU event at the College of William & Mary last year, chanting “liberalism is white supremacy” and “the revolution will not uphold the Constitution.” Campus activism is illiberal, and liberal free speech norms conflict with the broad protection of emotional comfort that the young, modern left demands.

The ACLU’s capitulation to the anti-speech left should serve as a wake up call for true liberals. What has taken place on campus over the last decade does matter, and though the scope of the problem is frequently overstated, we should all be concerned when the nation’s premiere civil liberties organization is increasingly afraid of defending the First Amendment—not because the Trump administration scares them, but because college students do.

Read the whole thing.

4 thoughts on “Another Failing Institution?

  1. Oh, never worry. The Left is determined to control what you may and may not say. And they never relent or really rest, so eventually they’ll get that control.

  2. You can’t be part of solution if you are part of the problem. If you believe that, “The scope of the problem is frequently overstated,” then you are part of problem. One of the bedrock principles of rule by law is that no matter how odious or immoral behavior is, if it is not illegal it cannot be punished by law. Speech, short of imminent incitement has an absolute protection, and, therefore, cannot be punished by law. One such abuse is intolerable, unacceptable, beyond the pale, and, cannot be overstated.

    This principle was demonstrated nicely in the Judgment at Nuremburg movie. A Nazi accused judge pleads to the trial judge, “I didn’t know it would come to this!;” only to be rebuked with, “It came to this when you first knowingly convicted an innocent man!”

  3. This idea of speech as violence is not going to end well.

    If speech is the same as shooting someone, why go with half measures? Might as well be hung for a sheep rather than a lamb.

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