Unquestionably the vast majority of ACLU members have been drawn to the organization by an idealistic response to this image. But on closer examination, a great disparity exists between the group's professed ideals and the work and statements of its leadership. A review of such contradictions can lead to an understanding of why this is the case.
The ACLU and The Right to Life
Since the Supreme Court's legalization of abortion in 1973, the ACLU has remained the staunchest advocate not only of the mass murder of millions of unborn children, but also of compelling those to whom abortion is morally repugnant to pay for it through public funding.
The Union endorses euthanasia or "mercy killing" through so-called "living wills" in which the right to terminate one's own life is delegated to the doctor with the protection of the state.
In spite of the Union's insistence on what it calls a woman's "right to control her own body," we find the group consistently absent from defending doctors and patients who are persecuted for choosing nutritional therapies for terminal diseases. The Union's record in defending the civil liberties of mental patients against involuntary commitment to institutions also leaves much to be desired.
But most amazingly, in spite of the group's willingness to give the government power to determine when life both begins and ends, the ACLU flatly maintains that there is no crime one can commit so horrible, either for retribution or deference, than capital punishment.
ACLU Defends the Soviet Family
It would be fair to say that the ACLU has contributed to the attempted undermining of the American family. They have been active in fighting for distribution of often dangerous methods of contraception and abortion to minors without parental approval. While avoiding defense of doctors who recommend nutrition to their patients, the ACLU has pushed for legalization of dangerous "recreational" drugs, not in the free market, but under government monopoly control. In the face of growing evidence of its relationship to child molestation, the ACLU is famous defending all kinds of pornography from the restrictions of local government, while sanctioning an even more intrusive and impossibly unenforceable "national standard" on obscenity and related matters. And, of course, there is the ACLU's unsuccessful support for that Pandora's box of federal power extensions that was called the "Equal Rights Amendment."
In so many of these issues, which include areas in which the Union has in recent years received much publicity, the ACLU claims to be defending the rights of minors as individuals against the wishes of their parents. But when 12-year-old Ukrainian Walter Polovchak in 1980 ran away from his parents in Chicago because he did not want to be forced to return to a life of slavery in the Soviet Union, the ACLU was so moved by his parents "concern," that they took the case for the boy's involuntary repatriation. Apparently for the ACLU, an American child should be free to do anything regardless of the consequences, but a child from behind the Iron Curtain should be refused the chance for a life of freedom.
It may seem incredible that a group like the ACLU would fear the exhibition of Nativity scenes on public property or the singing of "hark the Herald Angels Sing" in public school assembly programs as threats to the First Amendment while turning deaf ears to the pleas of a 12-year-old boy for freedom. But strange conclusions result from the group's tendency to view the concept of rights as pertaining not to all individuals and what they have the right to do, but rather to groups who use government to take away from others the things they think they deserve.
Unlike the authors of the U.S. Constitution, the ACLU views our rights as demanding the fruits of another's labor rather than the opportunity to earn them ourselves. The late Ayn Rand correctly pointed out that this really means the right to enslave others to provide what we want. The Union's leaning toward a collectivist view of rights is further illustrated by the fact that that other guide books separately detail the rights of women, gay people, teachers, students, military personnel, veterans, hospital patients, mentally retarded persons, young people, aliens, students, candidates and voters, suspects, prisoners, lawyers and clients, government employees, etc. It's almost as if our rights are defined by our job or sex, or lack of either.
ACLU Assaults our Intelligence Agencies
Had the ACLU not been around we might not have had the tragedies in Oklahoma City or the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Perhaps the best known posturing against Big Brother on the part of the Union consists of its often bewilderingly contradictory positions on personal privacy vs. government surveillance and investigation.
The ACLU provided primary leadership for the Left's drive to abolish the:
In 1982 the ACLU of Southern California sued Los Angeles Police Department for alleged "abuses" committed by the Public Disorder Intelligence Division, a department which had investigated subversion and terrorism for many years.
Though initially a fishing expedition to determine what data the department possessed as well as its sources, by 1983 the focus of the attack had become PDID Detective Jay Paul, an acknowledged expert on Communist subversion and terrorism. LAPD had been under outside pressure to destroy its intelligence files and Detective Paul had stored them in his home. These files consisted of many boxes full of public record information, mostly newspaper and magazine articles going back to the 1930's. They were of historical value, possibly useful in ongoing or future investigations and were rescued by Paul from destruction. The ACLU and its liberal political allies in Los Angeles were horrified to discover the collection contained information on their own left-wing activities.
In January 1983 Jay Paul was removed from his intelligence capacity and subjected to an exhausting daily interrogation and investigation that would continue almost 18 months. It is not without significance that this action and the subsequent abolition of the PDID stopped the only advance investigation security preparation that could have helped stop terrorism at the 1984 Summer Olympics before it started.
Using this suit as a public "cause celebre", in the summer of 1983, the Union pushed mightily for a local Freedom of Information ordinance which Police Chief Darryl Gates told the LA City Council would prevent him from protecting the people of Los Angeles against terrorism at the 1984 Olympics. Fortunately enough concerned citizens packed the council chambers in opposition to this measure that only a very emasculated version of the proposal became law.
The ACLU File
One reason why some prominent leaders of the ACLU have been so opposed to public and private investigations of subversion must relate to what such an investigation would reveal about the Union itself.
The ACLU was formed out of earlier organizations in 1920 and its Executive Director and moving spirit until 1950 was Roger Baldwin. Before he died at age 97 in 1981, his ideology may have changed, but during the early years of his ACLU tenure there is no doubt where he stood.
In the "Harvard Class Book of 1935, spotlighting Baldwin's class of 1905 on its thirtieth anniversary, he was quoted as saying, "I seek the social ownership of property, the abolition of the propertied class and sole control by those who produce wealth. Communism is, of course, the goal." He gave this advice in 1917 to an associate who was forming another group:
"Do steer away from making it look like a Socialist enterprise...We want also to look like patriots in everything we do. We want to get a good lot of flags, talk a good deal about the Constitution and what our forefathers wanted to make of this country, and to show that we are really the folks that really stand for the spirit of our institutions."It should not be surprising to note that Baldwin was active during the 1930's in quite a few of the Communist Party's United Front organizations - he was an officer of the Garland Fund, for instance - along with other ACLU leaders including Rev. Harry Ward, Rev. John Haynes Holmes, Clarence Darrow, Scott Nearing, Robert Morss Lovett, Arthur Garfield Hayes, Archibald MacLeish, and Oswald Fraenkel. ACLU leadership also included identified Communist Louis Budenz, Robert Dunn and Corliss Lamont. ACLU activists William Z. Foster and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn would later become leaders of the Communist Party, U.S.A.
Since that time, the ACLU's official left-leaning activism has only steadily increased. Some local affiliates of the Union have always led this crusade, such as the Southern California ACLU which had maintained on its Board identified Communist Party operative Frank Wilkinson. While the national ACLU has not been characterized as a Communist front by any state or federal investigation since 1938, any doubt about its becoming a 'staunch defender' of individual rights was put to rest in April 1976, when the ACLU National Board formally reinstated Communist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn "posthumously" in its ranks. Despite this partisanship, the ACLU and its affiliated tax-exempt foundation continue to receive substantial yearly support from the Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Field, and other foundations.
The ACLU on Trial, by William H. McIlhany, (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1976)
The Tax-Exempt Foundations, by William H. McIlhany(Westport, CT: Arlington House, 1980)