The First Freedom
Charles Oliver has done a splendid job in unmasking the ideological pretensions of the ACLU ("The First Shall Be Last?" Oct.). All organizations are guilty of at least some inconsistencies, but what is most troublesome about the ACLU is its persistent use of state power to advance the goal of social equality against the rights of the individual. Restrictions on freedom of contract, rent control, affirmative action, busing, union shops, federally funded day care, comparable worth, etc., receive the support of the ACLU precisely because they service social equality, not civil liberties. Roger Baldwin, the founder of the ACLU, made clear the organization's mission, when in 1934 he declared, "civil liberties, like democracy, are useful only as tools for social change."
Regarding the ACLU's failure to defend anti-abortion protesters from prosecution under RICO statutes in Pennsylvania, it is not quite accurate to say that the ACLU refused to get involved. The Philadelphia affiliate filed an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiff abortion clinic suing the protesters under the RICO statute. Furthermore, while the ACLU says it opposes using RICO statutes against those who practice civil disobedience, it is also true that in 1986 the ACLU released a booklet ("Preserving the Right to Choose") urging the affiliates to use RICO statutes against anti-abortion protesters.
In short, it is politics, not principle, that typically guides the thinking of the ACLU.
William A. Donohue
Dept. of Sociology
La Roche College
Prof. Donohue is the author of The Politics of the ACLU. —Eds.
Congratulations to Charles Oliver for revealing that, unfortunately, George Bush was right about the ACLU.
Bush, during the 1988 presidential campaign, accused the ACLU of having a liberal agenda. When asked to respond, those of us who worked for the organization at the time smiled for the cameras, shook our heads, and spewed forth the party-line answer: "Gee, the ACLU is neither conservative nor liberal; we're just an organization that works to protect constitutional rights." When I said those words, I knew I was lying.
Many of us in the "strict-constructionist" minority of the ACLU hoped that the Bush attacks would help drive the group back toward its original mission—protecting civil liberties—and steer it away from the liberal issues it increasingly embraced. Sadly, any change was fleeting at best.
"Workers' rights," economic entitlements, and silencing racists are left-wing goals and are not civil liberties issues. Many ACLU activists would respond—and I have heard this argument often—that "civil liberties are what the ACLU says they are." Following this logic, any issue can be a civil liberties issue. (No kidding, I've heard seemingly intelligent ACLUers argue that nuclear disarmament and cleaning up ground water pollution are civil liberties concerns.)
I have just renewed my membership despite the ACLU's recent history. I plan to continue working within the organization to try to return it to its original mission. Frankly, I fear it may be too late.
Des Moines, IA
Lambert is former legislative director of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union. —Eds.
Charles Oliver further documents what should have long been clear to all observers: The ACLU travels under false colors. Since the ACLU was founded by former communists and fellow travelers and led and dominated by socialists, it's hardly surprising that its objective is not the advancement of civil liberty, protection of the individual from the state, but its opposite, coercion of the individual by the state in the interest of economic equality. That the ACLU is not libertarian but simply leftist is clearly shown by its support and use of race and sex quotas and support of "comparable worth"—apart from its uniform and unwavering support of all leftist causes.
Of course it is the ACLU that brings most abortion litigation—why is not infanticide, too, a civil liberties issue?—as it brings most litigation attacking traditional sexual mores and public support or recognition of religion. What is it, I wonder, about Ira Glasser and Norman Dorsen that makes these endeavors seem right and natural to them? Their actions undermine the family and therefore—like the ACLU's opposition to effective enforcement of the criminal law—threaten the viability of American society. Alan Dershowitz supports the ACLU, as he has for 25 years, he tells us, because it "still does some good." It has indeed done much good for Penthouse, which employs Dershowitz as a columnist, but it has done the opposite of good for the American attempt to maintain a prosperous, secure self-governing society.
Parenthetically, would you print "john powell's" name backwards and upside down, as well as without initial capital letters, if he told you that's how he spells it? Powell may have need to establish his revolutionary credentials at the ACLU but your ready acquiescence in his war or standards, even the English language leaves you in no position to criticize the ACLU.
Lino A. Graglia
School of Law
University of Texas
REASON decided that the way john powell spells his name provides readers with information about his character: To change it would make him appear more conventional than he is. —Eds.
Your article left out two glaring examples of liberal bias. The First Amendment covers more than just Nazis, communists, racists, and offbeat poets—what about those wishing to engage in commercial free speech? How about bothersome zoning or sign-code regulations aimed at small merchants who can't afford $500,000 for 30 seconds of air time during the Super Bowl and who must settle for a sandwich board advertising their business? And what about those warning labels on cigarettes and liquor? Or the outright banning of cigarette advertising on TV? What's next—beer commercials? How about restricting ads for the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated or Playboy?
I'll go Oliver one better if we're counting amendments—what happened to the Second Amendment? Why isn't the ACLU defending gun enthusiasts from the predatory whims of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms?
Despite the liberal bias, I'm renewing my dues. If anything, the sad state of our Bill of Rights is reason enough to hope that some of those liberals get "gently" mugged, get fined by a bureaucrat, or do something in violation of community standards.
Conrad F. Goeringer
I resigned from the ACLU in 1984 over the Walter Palovchak case, and they never acknowledged my letter on that subject.
Some of us would differ, however, with Oliver's political terminology. Western Goals was a John Birch Society front group and therefore hardly a "conservative" organization; hard-right or extreme-right would be a better description.
Dept. of Political Science
Central State University
It seems to me that the ACLU actually sold out years ago, when it bowed, groveled, and humbly asked forgiveness of our Marxist-Leninists for booting them out of the organization. The temporary divorce occurred about the time that Henry Wallace ran for president in 1948. While the ACLU later reinstated communists to full membership, complete with apologies for having fallen victim to Cold War hysteria, the ACLU has yet to explain to my satisfaction when and under what circumstances a Marxist-Leninist would go to the barricades in defense of the civil liberties of a conservative or a libertarian.
Irving L. Jacobs
National City, CA
Charles Oliver's excellent article provides a clear and comprehensive explanation of how changes in basic policy and membership recruitment have converted the ACLU from a defender of First Amendment rights to an arm of the liberal political establishment.
But I disagree with the author's apparent view that the right of free expression is somehow violated by colleges and universities that attempt "to ban sexually or racially insensitive speech on their campuses." The right of free speech does not require that anyone be forced to listen, nor does it require that anyone be compelled to provide the means or place of delivery (lecture platforms, college newspapers, dormitories, or whatever). The right of free speech simply bars interference with a speaker using his own property or property access granted to him by others. Under the rights of property, contract, and free association, colleges and universities, as well as anyone else, must be left completely free to determine the conditions under which they will allow others to use their property or otherwise interact with them; and this may include restrictions on speech, dress, or other aspects of behavior. Prospective students, faculty, employees, etc., may decline to be associated with such institutions because of their restrictions. But it appears that the ACLU has been on the right side for the wrong reasons.
By the same argument, a respect for the right of free expression did not require the city of Skokie, Illinois, to turn over its streets (designed for the purpose of transportation) for a demonstration by a band of Nazis.
The issue of property rights is, of course, complicated by the notion of public ownership in the case of taxpayer supported streets and schools, especially where those in charge grant access to some political groups while denying it to others. But for privately owned schools, businesses, etc., the issue is clear: All persons have an absolute right to associate (or not associate) with whomever they please, on whatever basis to which they can voluntarily agree. In short, a right is not violated if it is surrendered voluntarily (in this example, for the privilege of attending a particular university).
Daly City, CA
As a 30-year ACLU member, I can vouch for the problems Charles Oliver describes. One item not mentioned, perhaps for fear of sounding conspiratorial, is the deliberate infiltration of the ACLU by leftist ideologues. For example, for years the hard-leftist National Lawyers Guild has encouraged its members to become active in the ACLU. In the Atlanta affiliate, for example, NLG members once comprised a majority of its board; the NLG is quite influential in a number of other affiliates.
Personally, I think the ACLU is simply too far gone to be rehabilitated. I remain a member because it occasionally comes through in a free speech case. I would jump ship in a minute if an "American First Amendment Union" came along, and I suspect a large number of ACLU members would join me.
Civil Liberties Review
Must the ACLU decide everything in a courtroom and/or through another unneeded law? Have the ACLU and similar groups lost the capacity to educate and thereby obtain a lasting majority in thought and behavior?
A fundamental aim of the First Amendment is that of encouraging public discussion and debate, thus testing ideas. Those that are worthy survive. General suppression and oppression through legislation are thereby avoided—for every law represents a degree of loss in freedom. A genuine understanding of individual rights and freedom recognizes this.
The First Amendment must be preserved intact, and exercised fully and freely, for and by all Americans. Else, totalitarianism is upon us, and freedom and liberty are lost.
Paul R. Mohley
After many years and with a deep sense of loss, I withdrew my membership from the ACLU for many of the reasons Charles Oliver covered in his article.
As are many others, I am concerned that there is declining awareness of the erosion of civil liberties which are protected by the Constitution, and which the ACLU once defended so admirably.
Civil liberties—restraints on government—are now lost in the pot of civil rights, sustained by liberals and conservatives as economic rights to increase political dependence of individuals upon a growing paternalistic bureaucracy.
Committed to civil liberties in the public interest, I looked around for an organization to replace the ACLU and finally found the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Betty Ann Laws
Defending Whose Interests?
Jacob Sullum's apology for the American intervention in the Persian Gulf ("Engulfed," Oct.) shamefully evades the real purpose of the U.S. action. Contrary to what Sullum says, the danger to Americans did not precede, but was rather the result of, the U.S. intervention. Saddam Hussein had no reason to mistreat American citizens or businesses until the U.S. government threatened him with an embargo and with military intervention.
As Sullum notes, past U.S. acquiescence in repeated aggressions by states in the Mideast (Syria, Israel, and Iraq itself) shows that the U.S. claim to be nobly fighting aggression is a lie. Similarly, our coziness with those nations that have repeatedly jacked up the price of oil (Saudi Arabia, the Shah's Iran, and Kuwait itself) puts the lie to the "oil excuse."
The real purpose of the U.S. muscle flexing was to raise George Bush's sagging opinion polls and also to head off any attempts to use the "peace dividend" as a reason for cutting federal taxes and military spending. The war hysteria has conveniently diverted attention from the S&L scandal, the budget deficit, and George Bush's breaking of his "Read my lips—no new taxes" pledge.
The barbarity of the U.S. government is especially clear in its attempt to prevent food and medical supplies from reaching the innocent civilians of Iraq. (The embargo is an act of war which, under the U.S. Constitution, requires a declaration of war by the Congress.)
The thuggery of Saddam Hussein is no excuse for the militaristic thuggery of George Bush. The crisis in the gulf clearly draws the line between libertarians who wish to reduce government and respect the individual rights of people of all nations and jingoistic conservatives such as Sullum who offer specious arguments for maintaining the garrison state.
David H. Miller
People fearful of government power play with fire when they call for U.S. foreign policy to protect Americans abroad. That is a recipe for habitual intervention and disaster, whether they intend it or not. Americans are everywhere in the world, and there is nothing easier for the government to do than create a provocation. Remember the Maine!
Prudent-sounding caveats intended to limit the government to real dangers aren't worth the paper they're written on. Libertarians won't be making the decisions. Special interests and their agents will be. Foreign policy is the most private function of government. The executive branch can do pretty much what it wants, and the people don't know what is going on until it is too late.
When prescribing a policy, we cannot—we must not—assume that the standards of limited government will be controlling. If we do, we will get just what we deserve. A better rule is to choose a policy as though the worst will carry it out. They will.
Sheldon L. Richman
The Price of Donations
"Spare Parts," by Ronald Bailey (Aug./Sept.), pointed to the severe shortage of donor organs for transplantation in the United States. This problem is getting worse instead of better. In 1989, the national transplant waiting list increased from 16,035 names on January 1 to 19,173 on December 31. In most businesses, increasing the number of customers who want your service normally means increased success. However, in transplantation, such increased demand means failure, since more patients must wait. There are too few organ donors to meet the needs of those waiting.
This is not a mere inconvenience—1,878 people died waiting for organ transplants in 1989. Life-saving and health-restoring organ transplants succeed in 85 percent of cases with today's technology and medical treatment; nearly 1,600 people who died waiting for donated organs would still be alive today leading useful and productive lives.
By all accounts, the problem is even worse today. Donations are not only failing to keep up with the increased demand—they actually decreased by 10 percent in 1989, and the situation may deteriorate.
The United States Congress (by law) and our professional societies (by philosophy) have opposed payment for donor organs. There is, however, the possibility that a death benefit paid to the surviving family member might improve the consent rate for organ donation. Only 50 percent of medically suitable donors referred to an organ recovery agency currently provide consent. Far more potential donors are never referred.
While efforts to improve public and professional education must continue, such efforts have an impact over the longer term. A death benefit payment might immediately raise the consent rate. Increasing the consent rate to 75 percent would raise the number of organ donors by 50 percent.
More organs can be obtained from living donors. Live donors should be compensated for expenses, time lost from work, and for the various inconveniences experienced during the evaluation, surgery, and recovery process. Recipients concerned about the costs of compensation should note that the savings in dialysis costs alone would more than cover the potential expense.
The Health Care Finance Administration reports that the United States now spends several billions of dollars per year on the end-stage renal disease program. Removing 5,000 more dialysis patients from that expensive treatment method with successful transplants would save about $125 million for each year the organs functioned beyond the first post-transplant year (the first year is roughly a trade-off).
A pilot project would sufficiently answer whether moderate reimbursement can increase cadaveric and live-donor organ recovery. For those concerned about favoring the rich over the poor or other ethical questions, remember that the consent rates for organ donation are the worst among the poor, who also have the highest incidence of diseases that can be cured by transplant. Would the very poorest be more inclined to donate if they received compensation? Would more poor patients benefit from having access to these donated organs? Wouldn't the poor and rich benefit, and wouldn't society as a whole be better off?
Trial programs that provide death benefit payments can answer these questions. The prevailing wisdom claims that compensating organ donors is evil. If a carefully designed and scientifically supervised trial-payment program increases the rate of donation, a national organ recovery program could save thousands among us who now perish needlessly.
Jimmy A. Light, M.D.
Director, Transplantation Services
Washington Hospital Center
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".