Saturday, December 9

Why I support the ACLU.

And on a related left wing slant, if you see someone walking around with this shirt, you might wanna walk up and say hi and see if it's me. Mine arrived in today's mail. UPDATE: Okay! Okay! Sorry! Here's where you get the shirt.

A commenter asked a while back, quite sincerely and honestly, I thought, how I could call myself a Christian and have an ACLU banner on my website. I've been meaning to repsond for a while now, and am prompted to finally do so by this article by Fran Quigley, the executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union.

But before I quote her article, allow me to quote Mr. Blue Gal. He knows a thing or two about the ACLU, as he has been in a leadership position within the ACLU of Alabama for some time now, making me, Mrs. Blue Gal, extremely proud in the bargain. I mentioned the "how can you be Christian and ACLU" comment to him (we've had this conversation many times on the way to and from church, actually) and he made the following point. I apologize to my readers for whom this sounds like Con Law for Dummies, but I needed this primer and maybe others do, too.

There are two clauses in the Constitution related to the separation of Church and State. One is called the Establishment Clause. This clause prevents the Government from establishing a State-sponsored church. There will be no "Church of America" as there is a "Church of England." I usually roll my eyes when people involve the Founding Fathers in their political arguments, but in this instance there is no question: the Founding Fathers did not want a "Church of England" style relationship between any religious institution and the American government. Therefore, "Congress shall make no law establishing" such a church.

The other clause is the "free exercise" clause. This clause tells the government that they cannot interfere with anyone's personal religious expression, as long as that expression does not interfere with the rights of others. A government employee, for instance, can wear a cross around her neck to work. Or a Star of David. Or a diamond-studded flying spaghetti monster. There are numerous other examples of free exercise of religion. This blog, for instance. If I decided to turn this into a blog where I pretend (?) to be Jesus H. Christ and answer emails from surfers about whether anal is okay, that sure is free exercise. Some may find it offensive, but it's protected speech AND free exercise (known by ACLU lawyers as a "twofer").

This gets to the point of not only why I, as a Christian, support the ACLU, but why I can't imagine any Christian NOT supporting them. Mr. Blue Gal pointed out to me that the ACLU defends a great many more free exercise cases than establishment cases. That means their main activity in terms of religion is helping the little guy practice his or her religion the way they and their God see fit. And I'm not just talking high-profile peyote cases, the only kind of case the MSM seems to cover.

The problem for the ACLU is that when they defend a Baptist preacher who wants to preach on the sidewalk (and they have done so) it does not get nearly as much press as when they ask a judge in Alabama to take his handmade Ten Commandments plaque off of the wall behind his chair. That, of course, just gets him elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, for a few months anyway.

Here is what Fran Quigley of the Indiana ACLU has to say:

As part of our justice mission, we work hard to protect the rights of free religious expression for all people, including Christians. For example, we recently defended the First Amendment rights of a Baptist minister to preach his message on public streets in Southern Indiana. The ACLU intervened on behalf of a Christian valedictorian in a Michigan high school, which agreed to stop censoring religious yearbook entries and supported the rights of Iowa students to distribute Christian literature at their school.

There are many more examples, because the ACLU is committed to preserving the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom for all.

And that is why I am a big supporter of the ACLU. If you are a Christian who has been taught that the ACLU is your church's enemy, ask yourself why you can't believe in Jesus Christ AND ALSO support this country's "constitutional guarantee of religious freedom for all." How can you not?


  1. Anonymous9:49 PM

    I think that if Christians view the ACLU as their enemy, it's because we live in a country where the majority of the people identify themselves as Christian.

    The Bill of Rights exists, for the most part, to protect minorities from being bulldozed by the majority, who rarely find themselves in need of protection. When a member of the majority claims to need protection, it's usually a matter of being upset with attempts to protect minorities, so you get arguments against affirmative action or gay marriage. And while the ACLU has protected the rights of such groups to make their views known, I don't think it's ever supported the goals of groups that seek to take rights away from others.

    Sure, the ACLU will protect the rights of a Baptist when the need arises, but most of the time Baptists aren't the ones in need of help. When it comes to cases of people's right to religious expression in this country, I think it's pretty safe to assume that most of the time, it's Christians (as the majority of the general public) who are denying someone their rights. That's not because their Christians, but because they're the general public -- the majority who would carelessly bulldoze others if it weren't for the Bill of Rights.

  2. Anonymous10:57 PM

    The Religious Right is all about freedom of religion; anytime there's a case involving prayer before a high school football game or a creche on the courthouse lawn, it gets major play in the Religious Right Media. But a few years ago, when the Northwest Indian Cemetary Protective Association case was decided by the Supreme Court, the silence was defeaning. This case eviscerating the "free exercise" clause of the First Amendment by ruling that the gov't can interfere with, delay or completely deny anyone's religious liberties, as long as the law that does it is designed to apply to everyone. So, to use the case's example, let's say you have a law whereby the federal gov't subsidizes logging companies to build roads through national forests. And let's say those roads just happen to destroy sacred Indian sites. Hey, tough luck, pal! The law is designed to screw everyone's right to a preserved environment, and the fact that it also destroys your ability to practice your faith is just a coincidence. Or let's say (as happened in Texas) a school district bans rosaries as "gang emblems" or yarmulkes as part of a dress code? Under this case, that would all be fine. And yet, the Religious Right was nowhere to be seen. It was left to Bill Clinton to pass federal legislation that restored religious liberty by imposing a higher legal burden on gov't actions that interfere with people's religious beliefs. They owe Bill one, though he shouldn't hold his breath waiting for a pat on the back.

  3. always interested12:01 AM

    When I was a little girl, I learned the parable of the Good Samaritan, in Sunday School. As an adult, in the 1980's, I was part of a major letter writing campaign to get a young woman out of military prison in the United States (and we did). I decided that my writing to her and to others was a part-time job (while I finished a graduate degree, and worked part-time). When I read the news article about her, the first group I called was the ACLU. It turned out the young woman's pro bono lawyer was the national chairperson of the ACLU--we talked. Later, two more lawyers came to the young woman's defense--pro bono. The parable of the Good Samaritan? The ACLU (or CCLU)? One thing has everything to do with the other. As a Christian, I cannot take responsibility for those who so identify themselves, and then do little about it.

  4. Mr. Blue Gal1:18 AM

    I would like to make a brief comment concerning "qwerty's" post in which he states that the ACLU has never supported the goals of groups that seek to take rights away from others. Actually, the ACLU does not support the goals of any group it represents. The true client of the ACLU is the Constitution of the United States. When a group's constitutional rights are impeded, the ACLU may represent them and do so regardless of the group's goals, in vindication of their constitutional right and not their goals. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the ACLU's representation of the American Nazi Party when it was arbitrarily denied a march permit by the city officials of Skokie, Illinois. The Nazis were a group whose goals probably did include the taking away of others' rights, but the ACLU represented them, regardless of their goals, because of the threat to the Constitution inherent in "viewpoint" discrimination by authorities in the denial of the parade permit.

    It is only fair to admit that most of the ACLU's free exercise representations are of "off-brand" faiths, perhaps a point in favor of qwerty's argument that majorities do not need protection. However, I can recall of my own knowledge cases in which the ACLU has represented smaller Christian churches oppressed by local zoning impositions and even a Baptist church in Reno that was aggrieved by a city tax. For those concerned with the public purse, we lost that last one.

  5. Where can I get one of those sexy shirts, Blue Gal?

  6. i received an invitation to join the aclu in the mail friday. i am going to join. you put things very well.

  7. At the time of the flap over the 10 Commandments monument (known as Roy’s Rock) that Chief Justice Roy Moore had installed in the Alabama judicial building I wondered what the ACLU’s position would have been if Moore’s attorneys had argued that if the first amendment applied to Moore and his act of installing the monument then it should follow that it applied equally to the judge hearing the arguments. And, since installing the monument was merely a part of Judge Moore's exercising of his religion, thus it should also follow that it would be unconstitutional for the judge to prohibit his doing so.

    Would the ACLU have come to Moore’s defense in that scenario or just considered it to be a constitutional conundrum?

  8. Anonymous10:35 AM

    i think the problem lies in the fact that the average joe doesn't take the time to really learn what these fights are really about. mr blue gal's example of the nazi march is a good case in point. i don't have to agree with the nazi's to know that they have a right to march.

    my mom always used to ask me how i would feel if that were me. she was a card-carrying ACLU member all her life--a true christian if you ask me, (although not a Christian with a capital C). I can only hope to be half as understanding as she was.

  9. Anonymous1:55 PM

    Must have shirt. Available where?

  10. As Mr. Blue Gal said The true client of the ACLU is the Constitution of the United States. - which means that the ACLU is, in fact, a conservative organization.

    In its attempts to subvert the constitution and push the U.S. to the "root" of their faith, the religious right seems to be a radical movement by both etymology and intention.

    I wonder about historical precedent of this in the U.S. - my experience has tended to be with radical left and conservative right. Anyone?

  11. Anonymous5:59 PM

    Judge Moore arranged and paid for the construction of a monument to be moved into a public court house, by paying for it with private funds. He then moved the thing into the court house after hours, with the permission of no one. This was not the free exercise of his religion: it was an act, in my opinion, of vandalism. The township which employs me owns the building wherein I teach. I can't break into my school some Saturday when no one is looking and paint the lyrics to my favorite, say, Billy Bragg song onto the walls of my classroom without getting official permission to do so.

    Judge Moore lost his case. As he should have.

  12. Anonymous5:59 PM

    "And, since installing the monument was merely a part of Judge Moore's exercising of his religion, thus it should also follow that it would be unconstitutional for the judge to prohibit his doing so."

    Do what to who now? How does Freedom of Religion equate to planting a half-ton granite idol in the middle of a public building? Any citizen of Alabama owns that courthouse as much (in fact, more) than any transient elected official. If Blue Gal's religion required her to decorate the lobby of the State Capitol building with, say, a ten ton bronze replica of a thong (th-thong-thong-thong) would that be okay? Judges, especially elected judges, cannot give even the impression that they favor one group over another. Decorating a court building with a wayward boulder inscribed with Bible quotes sends the clear message, "Non-Christians Need Not Apply." If Moore wanted to decorate his chambers with a replica of the Protestant version of the Ten commandments, or a statue of Krishna or whatever, that would be a different matter entirely. But there is simply no comparison between that and this sort of public orgy of self-indulgence and idolotry in clear defiance of Scripture (Matthew 6:5-6).

  13. Anonymous8:32 PM

    ... And I am a Christian and I will be renewing my ACLU membership next year. Proudly.

  14. My prior comment was a question based on a hypothetical scenario and directed to either Mr. Blue Gal or any other qualified representative of the ACLU just as a matter of curiosity. Neither The Local Crank nor quakerdave identified themselves as being such a representative but their comments are duly noted.

    As quakerdave said, Judge Moore lost his case, but his attorneys didn’t put forth the argument I asked about so that could be why he lost.

  15. Anonymous9:19 PM

    "As quakerdave said, Judge Moore lost his case, but his attorneys didn’t put forth the argument I asked about so that could be why he lost."

    If you will permit me to humbly respond to your post, I submit that your argument makes no sense, legally or for that matter biblically. How does Roy Moore (or anyone else) have the Constitutional right to lug gigantic stone idols or fetishes of their religion into public buildings? What portion of the First Amendment permits this? If "freedom of religion" permits former Judge Moore to haul a giant slab of his own creation into a courthouse, why can I not move an enormous phallus of the sort displayed in certain Japanese religious festivals into the rotunda of the Texas Capitol Building? Lord knows, it wouldn't be the first or the last giant phallus among the State Legislature...

  16. Understand that I’m not saying that the defense argument I outlined about Judge Moore would have had any legal merit under the constitution. I am asking if the ACLU might think that it would, and if so, would it have come to Judge Moore’s defense had his attorneys used it. I might add that I have never supported Moore.

    The reason I’m curious about this is that such an argument would seem to me to pit the establishment portion of the first amendment squarely against the free exercise part of it and I wonder how that might work out.

    The Local Crank’s comments about a phallus symbol or whatever don’t seem germane to this question, but for the record, as Alabama’s Chief Justice Moore was the state’s legal custodian of the Judicial building so that may have given him the right to install or remove anything from the rotunda that he saw fit to as long as it was legal.

  17. name one time the ACLU has prevented Congress from establishing a religion or church?

    eerr never perhaps?

    the ACLU is attempting to enlist the government (the judiciary) to place restrictions on individuals. And if you want to argue the establishment clause, then I will argue the free exercise clause.

  18. Mr. Blue Gal6:51 PM

    This is a response to issues raised by Don, The Local Crank; quakerdave; then Shunra; and then Mark. I'm not a blogger, and this will be my last comment. Perhaps all those reading blogs have already moved beyond these posts, which is one reason why I don't like blogs: they are too hasty and effervescent.

    To the point of Don, The Local Crank, and quakerdave. Yes, Judge Moore does have exercise of religion rights, but he was not acting for himself when he plunked down that multi-ton monument. That was official, government, right in the middle of the Supreme Court building lobby. The State of Alabama does not, not, have any free exercise right. No American governmental agency does. Roy Moore does individually, and he would have been free to sponsor a rally ("Judges for Jesus") on the street in front of the building or any other public forum. He did have his hand-carved ten commandments display in his private office before he went nuts with the monument, and the ACLU did not object. Another example: little Suzy gives a prayer at her valedictorian address ("Thanks God, for good grades"). Assuming she was not pressured into it, that is perfectly good individual free exercise. The principal gives a prayer at the graduation: that is official as he is acting as a part of state or local government and unconstitutional. Suppose the principal instead walks over to the student-sponsored pre-school prayer rally at the flagpole (they actually have these in Alabama), to join in these prayers. That is a closer case, but he is probably alright, i.e., his own free exercise. There are a lot of line drawings here, hence much controversy, but I hope you take the point: public officials, in their capacities as individuals, have free exercise rights; as public officials in their public capacities, they do not.

    As to Shunra's query as to whether the ACLU might be viewed as a truly conservative organization, perhaps in a sense, although I think that would be misleading. Lots of constitutional "rights" require much interpretation and refined definition. Since the federal courts are not yet roving commissions of constitutional explicaters, these refinements are decided in our system of law through individual cases. This means that organizations have grown that seek to influence the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution in different directions, hopefully (by their lights) reaching different interpretations of the same Constitution. So very liberal and very conservative organizations could both claim to derive their positions from the Constitution. In that regard, in the areas of separation of church and state, women's rights, specifically abortion rights, and homosexual rights (I can not bring myself to write "gay" as that word had a good, settled meaning before being stolen by homosexuals), the ACLU has consistently advocated for a more "progressive" or "liberal" position, i.e., interpretation of the Constitution. I certainly do not agree with all the positions taken by the ACLU, and most of us in the ACLU do not. Actually, we're rather contentious people, and we have lots of fights among ourselves. I also want to say that in Alabama the ACLU is the only game in town, the only organization that fights government oppression.

    As to Mark's comment that the ACLU has never had to oppose Congressional efforts to set up a state church. Whatever the original intent, the Establishment Clause has for over one hundred years been interpreted much more broadly than this. There are dozens of Supreme Court cases on this, but this clause now precludes efforts of government to advance any religion or religion in general or otherwise become too involved in religious beliefs or practices.

    I want to say one other thing, and then I'm done. The ACLU is not a monolithic organization. It operates through largely autonomous state affiliates. The national organization and each affiliate sets its own litigation agenda and files suit on its own. Human nature being what it is, this organizational framework permits the occasional pushing of the envelope by a particular affiliate or the current leadership of that particular affiliate beyond what most of us might think reasonable. Nevertheless, the newspapers thunder away "The ACLU does this outrageous thing or that," without considering precisely who filed the claim, the national ACLU or perhaps an individual affiliate.

    The Establishment Clause is such an unsettled land that often people go too far. Case in point: just yesterday a rabbi objected to SeaTac's Christmas trees that were above every entrance to the airpoint. The airport then took down the trees, an over-reaction in my opinion because the pine trees called "Christmas trees" are a seasonal symbol not a religious symbol. The news today is that the SeaTac is reconsidering. However, the spin usually put by religious right groups on incidents like this is to claim that the airport took down the Christmas trees because it was afraid the ACLU would sue them. Ridiculous!

    Well, it has been nice chatting with you. If anyone wants more of me, you may read my books.

    Mr. Blue Gal

  19. Anonymous11:55 PM

    "as Alabama’s Chief Justice Moore was the state’s legal custodian of the Judicial building so that may have given him the right to install or remove anything from the rotunda that he saw fit to as long as it was legal"

    First, I'm not sure it's true that the Chief Justice is "legal custodian" (whatever that it supposed to mean) of the Alabama Supreme Court Building (assuming such an edifice exists). While judges traditionally have fairly absolute control over their COURTROOMS, this control does NOT extend to the rest of the building. Second, displaying his half-ton idol was not, in fact, legal, so that would seem to be a moot point.
    And if I understand your last post, you are asking that if Judge Moore had raised a completely invalid legal argument that had no merit whatsoever, would the ACLU have supported him? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say "no." Attorneys are not obligated to advance frivolous arguments just because their clients want it done. Some do, of course, but that's another matter entirely.

  20. I appreciate Mr. Blue Gal’s taking time from what must be a busy schedule to post his lengthy and informational comment. One point I believe to be in error, though, is when he said, “He (Moore) did have his hand-carved ten commandments display in his private office before he went nuts with the monument, and the ACLU did not object”. There are many media articles that can be found with a search engine that say otherwise. They say the display was in Moore’s Etowah County courtroom and that the ACLU sought to have it removed.

    Court interpretations as to whether or not displays of the 10 Commandments violate the Establishment Clause vary. Even rulings by the SCOTUS vary, depending on circumstances such as the purpose and context of the display. As I understand it, rulings are based on whether the court considers the purpose to be religious or secular with the former being unconstitutional but the latter being constitutional (see the SCOTUS rulings rendered on the same day last year in Van Orden v. Perry and McCreary County v. ACLU).

    “Roy’s Rock” did have secular inscriptions engraved on its sides which in some circumstances might conceivably have resulted in the monument being ruled constitutional had Moore not made it clear in his testimony before Federal Judge Myron Thompson that his purpose in installing the monument was religious in nature.

    With so much hair-splitting being done by the esteemed justices of our courts I don’t see how anyone can say with certainty whether an act is legal or not. The best they could do is to render their personal opinion which may or may not be correct.

  21. Anonymous1:03 PM

    A couple quick factual notes:

    The handcarved Ten Commandments were originally on the courtroom walls in Etowah County, and that is why the ACLU thought it was government action. However, when Moore became Chief Justice and came down to MOntgomery, that tablet was in his private office, not the hearing room of the Alabama Supreme Court.

    Under Alabama law, the Chief Justice is the administrator of the building, which houses the Alabama Supreme Court, the state law library, and one or two other government agencies.


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