Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

More liberal than the ACLU

Jerry Stratton, September 7, 1997

Ira Glasser
American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad Street, 18th Floor
New York, New York 10275-0397

Dear Mr. Glasser:

I am responding to your last three requests that I rejoin the ACLU. When I quit five years ago, I quit because the ACLU had moved too far to the right. I cannot in conscience support an organization that seems bent on removing individual rights from the constitution.

The bill of rights, especially the first, second, and fourth amendments, are about rights of people. They are not about powers of governments. I don’t think I need to tell you this. Yet, on the ACLU web page, there is the argument that “the people” really means government-sponsored organizations. There is even a misquote of the Supreme Court. In U.S. v. Miller the court held that rights applies to individuals: in 1938, “every able-bodied male”. You can see the text at just about any Supreme Court caselaw site--but I’m sure you’re already familiar with it.

The ACLU seems to be trying to say that their lexical twist only applies to the second amendment. But if “the people” is a collective term in the second amendment, it is a collective term elsewhere as well. What, then, stops someone like Gerald Solomon from arguing that

there is no individual right to offensive speech? Free speech is a collective right of society, the people as a whole, and does not protect any individual’s so-called ‘right’ to be offensive or support illegal or immoral activities.

There are already people in power who claim that the first amendment only protects “certain kinds” of speech--the kind that no one cares about. The ACLU’s arguments about the second amendment can only bolster such arguments. In another letter I have in front of me you say “Since 1920 your ACLU has defeated repeated right-wing efforts to alter or circumvent the First Amendment.” After working so hard and so long, why hand them the first amendment on a platter now?

If you succeed in redefining the English language and the constitution, where will the rest of our rights go? How will a “strong ACLU” be able to protect the people’s rights once these rights are lexically removed from the constitution? In the mailing you said, “Whenever a court denies anyone’s rights, you lose those same rights.” This is true, and I cannot be a party to that, especially when it comes from the American Civil Liberties Union.

And there are deeper issues at stake. Even if the pernicious “collective people” does not spread to the rest of the bill of rights, it will not matter. Denying “the people” the right to self-defense ensures loss of fourth amendment and first amendment freedoms. If people do not, cannot, take the responsibility for their own defense, they will demand that the state be given more power to protect them. If people must rely on police power for defense, they will ensure that police power is strong, damn the bill of rights. It is a battle you cannot win. The majority will choose their undesirables and the state will crack down on those so chosen.

You talk in your latest letter about “freedom vs. authoritarianism”. Yet here you are on the side of authoritarianism.Where the right of self-defense is gone, it is not just that authoritarianism will have free reign. The people will demand authoritarianism. It is a natural law that the ACLU will be powerless to prevent, any more than you can prevent the tide from coming in. You complain that President Clinton has crippled habeas corpus, opposes safeguarding rights of immigrants and prisoners. Of course he does: President Clinton is an ardent supporter of gun control, and he can hardly win on that platform without also supporting a stronger police state. He must crack down on “undesirables” because the defenseless demand no less from him.

I support the right of free speech, free assembly, privacy, and self-defense. The latter is the lynchpin of all the former. Gun control has always been about controlling “undesirables”. Yet for rich, for poor, majority and minority, for everyone as individuals, the right of self-defense determines how we care about the rest of our rights. The ACLU seems squarely on the side of authoritarianism on this issue. Am I now more liberal than the ACLU?


Jerry Stratton

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