When family and culture are under constant attack, there sometimes seems to be no greater enemy than the American Civil Liberties Union. Yet, when Washington is busy expanding the welfare/warfare state, sometimes only the ACLU seems willing to confront Leviathan. What is someone who loves both liberty and community to do?
There is no reason why the protection of fundamental freedoms must undercut family and community. At base, what the ACLU really does not like is freedom exercised on behalf of religious, traditional, or family values.
While opposing intrusive government searches, for instance, the organization fights measures to empower families to choose a better education for their own children. While emphasizing the sanctity of human life by opposing capital punishment, the ACLU combats any attempt to limit abortion, even the near-infanticide of partial-birth abortion.
The fact that much of what the ACLU does is unpopular is actually one of its strengths. Perhaps the group’s greatest failing is not recognizing that emotionally charged social conflicts are best resolved without recourse to government edicts and court rulings. Instead of shrinking the size and reach of the Leviathan state, which would reduce the bitter battles that now dominate American courtrooms, the ACLU wants to use government power for social engineering. The organization seems to think that there is nothing worse than a traditional social institution—say, a family under a father’s headship—flourishing while minding its own business.
Thus, on virtually every educational issue, the ACLU comes down on the side of the imperialist, encroaching state, employing a stable of liberal, secular experts, and against parents. Constant conflict is an inevitable problem of the public-school monopoly, which ensures that almost all political minorities will be disappointed at one point or another as changing majorities impose their values and preferences. The only consistency in the ACLU’s approach is to battle against traditional values of any sort, whether school prayer, abstinence education, or parental decisions.
In fact, there is a good argument against instituting prayer in public schools. Why would any parent want to turn that task over to a nonbelieving teacher working in a public institution that has difficulty teaching kids to read, let alone to think morally? That, however, is not the ACLU’s argument.
It is the same with a range of other school issues. Sex education, the Pledge of Allegiance, abstinence or character training, drug tests, military recruitment, and more—yes or no? Instead of forcing interested parents to fight every issue before administrative bureaucrats, elected officials, and appointed judges, depoliticize education by placing it outside of government control. At the very least, let people choose—a favorite ACLU word—to escape the present system.
However, the ACLU militantly defends the education monopoly. “Congress must not divert funds to a voucher program that is designed to help only a few students, leaving the vast majority behind,” explained the ACLU, in opposing proposals for federal vouchers for students in failing Washington, D.C., schools. Never mind that a student was recently murdered in one of those schools, and, every day, all of these children are left behind.
The ACLU takes the same position on voucher programs for Cleveland, Florida, and Milwaukee. As usual, the group’s chief bugaboo is religion, but, for them, it seems, no system which allowed parental control would be acceptable. Turning out successive classes of students who have received neither practical nor moral education is better than giving parents the opportunity to opt out of the government system.
At base, the ACLU’s bias is fundamentally statist: Everyone really should attend citizen-molding public schools. Of course, the form of citizenship taught should bear no relationship to any orthodox faith. Thus, religious parents must pay for public schools that the ACLU attempts to prevent from ever mentioning religion. In its view, the money belongs to the government, not to parents. Vouchers “give public money” to—horrors!—“private and religious schools,” fusses the ACLU. Instead, government funds should be spent as the majority sees fit, unless religion is involved in their decision. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court extended this principle to federal college loans, ruling that a student could not use those benefits to train for the ministry.
The ACLU looks at federal grants through a similar prism. The group has no aversion to Washington’s ever-deepening pork barrel. Big government, in the name of helping, is just fine—but not if some religious person or organization receives any benefits. For example, the ACLU has relentlessly opposed the President’s faith-based initiative, which would allow religious charities to receive federal social-service grants.
Of course, many people, and especially religious believers, understandably are chary about funding overtly religious groups, especially ones that evangelize. What, however, of religious taxpayers forced to underwrite rigidly secular organizations that rarely are neutral when it comes to values?
Private groups that speak to the whole person, including their moral and spiritual facets, do a better job of treating social problems ranging from poverty to substance abuse. Should those who need help be punished for the faith of the grantee? Alas, no distribution of tax dollars in the public square will ever be fair. If the ACLU could see past its statist and secular biases, it might help rethink Washington’s approach to social problems. If it is worried about Church-state entanglements, the ACLU could support shrinking government programs and encouraging people to underwrite private charity, which would address social needs while avoiding discrimination against any people, secular or religious.
The ACLU’s uncritical acceptance of the expansive welfare state, combined with its extreme animus toward religion, was evident when the organization attacked the state of New Jersey for providing capital-improvement grants to two Catholic high schools. Such political pork would have been of no concern to the organization if directed to secular private schools or to failing secular public schools. The ACLU similarly persecuted the Boy Scouts, a group that requires devotion to God, refuses to accept homosexuals, and espouses traditional values. The ACLU attempted to force the Scouts to drop their ban on homosexuals, representing an assistant scoutmaster expelled for homosexuality who sued under the Civil Rights Act. Amazingly, the Supreme Court refused to mandate that the Boy Scouts conform—but the ACLU then used the Scouts’ new quasireligious status to launch additional assaults.
For instance, the city of San Diego has long leased 18 acres in a local park to the Boy Scouts for a dollar—plus, notably, a commitment to spend $1.7 million over seven years upgrading the land. The public harm in this arrangement was not evident to most people. The ACLU, however, looks hard to discover problems. “Having gone to great lengths to convince the courts that they are a private religious organization with a constitutionally protected right to discriminate, the Boy Scouts cannot now turn around and ask the taxpayers of San Diego for a public subsidy,” explained Linda Hills, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego.
After losing at trial, the city turned tail, revoked the lease, and paid the ACLU $950,000 for its costs and fees, leaving the Boy Scouts to fend for themselves. This organization, however, is as worthy as most of the 100 other nonprofits currently using San Diego public facilities. The fact that the Boy Scouts require members to believe generically in God should not disbar them from enjoying the same access to public property available to others.
As this case makes clear, the ACLU does not want neutrality in the public square. It demands hostility to anyone who rejects the dominant liberal Zeitgeist. Said Linda Hills: “[W]e deplore the Boy Scouts’ desire to exclude gays, atheists, and agnostics from their membership.” The group has “no more business receiving a taxpayer subsidy than does the Ku Klux Klan.”
Of course, the ACLU would not pay the slightest attention if San Diego had been leasing land to the children of NOW members or a “gay” youth group or a gaggle of student abortion activists. If the issue truly were principle, the answer would be relatively simple: Ban subsidies to all groups of any theological, philosophical, or political stripe. Better yet, sell off the park, and let private people do what they want.
The ACLU’s crabbed view even of “civil liberties” is illustrated by its absolutist support for abortion. The organization nominally cares about life, opposing the death penalty. These worthy sentiments, however, do not extend to the unborn.
In fact, it is hard to relish state intervention in a decision that obviously is highly personal, but it is impossible to overlook the inconvenient fact that a human life is at stake. Moreover, responsibility is essential to real freedom. The ACLU often promotes license over liberty. In its view, there should be no restraints on people’s choices and no consequences if they make bad decisions. To promote an absolute right to abortion is to say that a woman may exercise the choice of having sex without being responsible for the consequences of creating a child. To enshrine as immutable constitutional law the right to have sex with anyone at any time and the right to destroy the resulting human life in any way at any time is licentiousness, not freedom.
For the ACLU, there can be no compromise on these twin “rights.” The organization cannot even bring itself to accept restrictions on partial-birth abortion. After Congress passed another prohibition on the procedure last year, the ACLU promised “an immediate legal challenge to the ban to protect women and their doctors.” How about protecting the children? Surely their interest is worth a thought. The ACLU is worried about the burden on women forced to carry children to term and doctors prohibited from plying their bloody trade, yet remains unconcerned about children killed as they emerge from their mothers’ wombs.
In fact, the ACLU is focused more on promoting abortion than on protecting women’s and doctors’ freedoms. The group opposes allowing religious hospitals that collect tax dollars to refuse either to carry out the procedure or to make abortion referrals. Anyone who wants an abortion should be able to get one at any time at any place from anyone. Accept the king’s lucre, and you, too, must agree to kill the young.
Moreover, the ACLU opposes legislative proposals to make the killing of a fetus a crime. The group does not look at the issue on its merits, but through the prism of a woman’s absolute right to an abortion. As the organization explains, such an approach “is in reality a dangerous attempt to separate a woman from her fetus in the eyes of the law.” Yet how can any serious person deny the fact that these fetuses are distinct human beings, each of unique moral value?
Similarly disturbing has been the ACLU’s intervention in the “right-to-die” case of Terri Schindler Schiavo. The Florida case received public attention last fall but continues to be fought out in court on almost a daily basis. Schiavo suffers from a debilitating brain injury caused by an unexplained collapse. Over her parents’ objections, her husband won court approval to let her die (or, less charitably but perhaps more accurately, to kill her) by removing her feeding tube. The state of Florida intervened, ordering the tube reinserted. Everyone claims to be representing her best interests and carrying out her wishes.
Though authorities would normally rely on a spouse’s decision, Michael Schiavo may be thinking of more than his wife. He is the trustee of what remains of the cash settlement of a medical malpractice verdict, minus substantial legal fees incurred in the ongoing court battle, which would be his to spend as he likes should his wife die. Money was supposedly set aside for her care, which he has refused to expand. He also is engaged to be married to a woman with whom he has had two children. And there is more than a little testimony that creates suspicion of his motives—such as his public complaint “When is that bitch going to die?”
After the Florida legislature authorized Gov. Jeb Bush to order reconnection of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube, Michael naturally sued to void the law. And just as naturally, the Florida ACLU jumped in on his side to force his wife’s death.
It would be one thing to defend a person’s clearly expressed desire to choose death in such circumstances. That, however is not the case here. Schiavo and some of his family members claim that Terri indicated no interest in subsisting on tubes, but he conveniently failed to remember such sentiments when suing for money for rehabilitative care. He also apparently told a girlfriend (acquired after Terri’s collapse) that he and Terri were too young to have considered the issue.
In any case, there is substantial medical dispute over the potential for improving Terri’s condition. Even if she did not desire to live on tubes, would she desire to die if rehabilitative care—barred by Michael—allowed her to function more independently, as many medical experts believe it would? The ACLU is jumping into the middle of a complex family dispute. Why presume that death is the right option, irrespective of whether state officials have intervened? After all, whose civil liberties—among those of Terri Schindler Schiavo, her husband, and her parents—should be protected, and how?
We desperately need an organization that works hard to stop censorship of speech, limit abusive government searches, and ensure that proper criminal procedures are followed. Such efforts are particularly important at a time when even normally sober legislators vote for bills they have not read restricting freedom in the name of fighting terrorism.
Often, however, the ACLU seems to see protecting freedom as merely a means of attacking family and traditional values that it does not like. Parents should not be consulted about educational decisions; religious taxpayers should have no say in the funding of public institutions; and the lives of children and the disabled should be sacrificed in the name of choice. How about an activist organization dedicated to defending both liberty and traditional values, freely expressed?