If you’re on the right side of the political spectrum, you probably don’t think much of the ACLU. After all, they’ve gone to bat for all manner of unpopular individuals including including nazis, satanic churches, and even child molesters. One the most notorious cases that earned them almost universal hate was when they defended NAMBLA (the North American Man-Boy Love Association). So, yes, it’s no exaggeration to say they’ve defended actual child molesters.
You probably also know that one of the civil liberties they’ve been noticeably shy about defending is the right to keep and bear arms. That being the case, you might think that their recent decision to represent the NRA is unusual.
BREAKING: We’re representing the NRA at the Supreme Court in their case against New York’s Department of Financial Services for abusing its regulatory power to violate the NRA’s First Amendment rights.
The government can’t blacklist an advocacy group because of its viewpoint.
— ACLU (@ACLU) December 9, 2023
There’s a deeper truth behind the ACLU that many of its detractors don’t get. Most political organizations tend to stick to whatever partisan leaning they prefer. Republican groups support Republican causes. Democrat groups support Democrat causes. But, the ACLU is actually pretty consistent, at least where freedom of speech is concerned.
Back when virtually everyone raked them over the coals for defending NAMBLA, they said . . .
In representing NAMBLA today, our Massachusetts affiliate does not advocate sexual relationships between adults and children.
What the ACLU does advocate for pretty consistently is robust First Amendment rights for everyone. The NRA lawsuit involved here, if it fails, would strike at the heart of freedom of speech and empower governments to severely restrict the rights of anyone with views they disapprove of.
Predictably, though, in announcing its support for the lawsuit, the ACLU made sure to do a lot of throat-clearing to make it very plain to one and all that it nauseates them to be on the same side of an issue as the NRA.
But the First Amendment issue before the Court is important enough that the ACLU felt it had to overcome its disgust for the plaintiff.
The case before the Supreme Court challenges the state of New York’s attempt to blacklist the NRA following the Parkland shooting with threats made against other businesses like banks and insurers that did business with the association. Basically, Governor Andrew Cuomo tried to use the regulatory levers of government to squeeze an organization that espouses a message he didn’t like.
We understand that gun violence is a real and present threat and that America’s approach to guns causes harm in many communities.
And yet, while we vigorously oppose the NRA’s viewpoint, we cannot give government officials the power to silence those with whom they disagree.
— ACLU (@ACLU) December 9, 2023
Basically, the ACLU is (and really always has) playing the long game on freedom of speech. The ACLU may like shutting down the speech of someone they don’t like in the short run, but in the long run, it can come back to bite everyone in the ass.
And really, that’s how free countries slide into authoritarianism. By taking advantage of something heinous like a school shooting, bad people working in government trick the weak-minded and shortsighted into supporting what seems (at the time) to be a reasonable restriction. Later, however, they find that those restrictions tend to expand. Bad things happen again and then another salami slice of freedom is lost.
They’re not perfect by any stretch, but the ACLU understands that and tries to step in when nobody else will. Even if you don’t like nazis, satanism, or pedophiles, letting the government establish a precedent for taking some people’s rights away sets the stage for taking everyone’s rights away down the road. When satanists lose their freedom of religion, Christians aren’t far behind, for example.
While they’re pretty solid on freedom of speech, one area where the organization is notably short-sighted is the right to keep and bear arms. The national ACLU doesn’t stand up for gun rights, and has repeatedly said that they think “reasonable restrictions” are lawful. In at least one case, however, the organization’s Nevada affiliate did stand up for gun rights, so not everyone in the organization feels that way.
Fortunately, there are plenty of other gun rights organizations like Gun Owners of America, the Second Amendment Foundation, the Firearms Policy Coalition, among others, who are there to fight for that right.