Monday, June 18, 2007

John Gilmor on the ACLU

It is easy to see that the "Christian right" in general doesn't like the ACLU. I love liberty, but I don't necessarily like the ACLU. Perhaps I'm not as settled on it being "the beast" that many Christians see it as, but I still feel it has done much harm. And my Christian worldview causes me to see a lot of damage that it has done through various lawsuits and selective attacks on religion in the public square. On the other hand, though, I don't want to say that the ACLU has done nothing good. It has done good. The fact that it is on the other side of the "culture war" doesn't mean that we should label everything it does as bad. I think we can identify the general agenda of the group without making sweeping statements about EVERYTHING they do.

But... Even if I were to ignore the way some of the ACLU's actions rub my worldview the wrong way, I think its safe to say that the ACLU is NOT the "vanguard of liberty" that some people think it is. And John Gilmor recently made some critical public statements about the ACLU that illustrate this.

Regarding Gilmor.. I disagree with him on a number of issues--actually quite a few. But in some way I have a certain amount of respect for him. He's a sort of non-conformist who isn't afraid to speak his mind. He's the sort of hardcore Libertarian geek millionare type. He was the fifth employee of Sun Microsystems and also helped to found the EFF and Cygnus.

I wouldn't do many of the things he does and when it comes down to it we may be on the opposing side of a number of issues, but still there's something about him that makes me want to tip my hat to him. I wonder if I'll ever have 1/20th of the intestinal fortitude that he has--for issues that *I* feel strongly about. One issue which Gilmor is very vocal on is the issue of privacy/constitutional violations that occur in the name of the "war on terror" and the way the emotional topic of terrorism seems to make people more prone to accept fundamental violations of their constitutional rights, even where there are no probable grounds of suspicion. He very dramatically illustrated this when he got kicked off a flight for wearing an "I'm a suspected terrorist" badge.

Well, getting back to the topic, John Gilmor has posted to the "Politech" list with his comments on the ACLU. He levies a few criticisms regarding the ACLU, mainly directed at people who see the ACLU as perfect crusaders for liberty. He makes some good points. I particularly like the way that he shows that the ACLU is not wholeheartedly committed to liberty.

- "Anyone who thinks the ACLU is an unbiased defender of freedom should look into the school choice movement. ACLU always ends up on the wrong side of those lawsuits, seeking to overturn laws that allow parents to choose what school their child will go to. It's apparently because they have a strong political tie to teachers' labor unions, which oppose parental and student choice about who'll teach them."

- Gilmor also points out that the ACLU is very discriminatory when it comes to which cases they pick. In the words of Gilmor, "it hurt to find that I'm too white to have my freedom of speech violated". Gilmor is not bringing this up because of xenophobia, but rather because he has a good example of this sort of discrimination in action. The ACLU refused to carry out a freedom of speech case on behalf of Gilmor when he got thrown off a plane for a badge he wore, but on the other hand they were very eager to take up the case of an Arabic man who similarily got thrown of f a plane for words on a shirt he wore.

- Gilmor also speaks of the the ACLU's "bizarre meme there that involves not giving credit to any 'competing' civil rights organization". Here he's pointing out that the ACLU has a sort of elitism, in effect.

- Gilmor also cites the ACLU's active opposition to the 2nd Ammendment as another one of their blind spots. Its a place where they pursue traditional leftism rather than civil liberty.

- Gilmor also states that "censorship to enforce political correctness is epidemic in colleges, frequently to shut down 'conservative' or 'religious' speakers". Kudos to Gilmor for seeing something that ACLU doesn't.. "free speech" means that "religious nuts" can speak too!

Contrasting the ACLU and Gilmor, we see that Gilmor is moreso consistent for civil liberties. The ACLU is highly politicalized. They are not totally ideologically for liberty. They are for a certain ideology and they sing the song of liberty when liberty seems to fall in line with their ideology. I don't agree with Gilmor on many things, but I admire the fact that he stands the line of his ideology for better or for worse. He doesn't care if the speaker is what many would call a "right wing religious nutcase". He's for their free speech. The ACLU is not so principled.

So, apart from Christian worldview related critiques of the ACLU, I think there is a good strong case to make that even an agnostic libertarian, such as I presume John Gilmor is (my apologies if I got that wrong..), can see that the ACLU is by no means some sort of hero in the struggle for civil liberties. Whether or not they want to admit it, they are for liberty and freedom when it fits into their agenda. If the ACLU were consistently for liberty, I think I (and other Christians) could have a whole lot more respect for them. In my view, to be consistently for liberty, they must prove that they are willing to allow Christian thoughts to be uttered in public. Otherwise, they are merely big brother with Christian thoughts as the new "thought crime".

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