Prof. Ron Collins on the freedom of speech and ACLU fundraising

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

University of Washington Professor Ron Collins (Concurring Opinions) writes:

It is that time of year again when those of us who have supported and continue to support the American Civil Liberties Union get out our checkbooks. Why? Because this is the time when we receive an annual fundraising letter from the group's Executive Director. The letter is accompanied by an annual National ACLU Workplan. The latter "lays out [the ACLU's] plans for the year ahead [and] always addresses the most critical civil liberties challenges facing our country" (emphasis added).

So begins a January 29, 2016 fundraising letter for Anthony D. Romero. Surprisingly, protecting free-speech freedoms is not listed as one of this year's "critical civil liberties" issues. Neither of the documents contains any mention of the First Amendment.

The 2016 letter and Workplan cover a "broad spectrum" of "wide-ranging assaults on liberty." In that regard, five areas of government wrong doing are identified where "fundamental freedoms are on the line." Free speech is not flagged as one of those endangered "fundamental freedoms."

Workplans, Priorities & Fundraising

Last year, when a similar omission in the ACLU's 2015 Workplan (see FAN 49) was pointed out, Mr. Romero replied (see FAN 50) by noting the many areas in which both the national ACLU and its state affiliates continue to defend a variety of free-speech rights. Hence, the ACLU had not abandoned this field (see two news items below). Still, insofar as the workplans are any indication of the group's priorities, protecting free speech does not appear to be one of them, at least not for fundraising purposes. . . .

Read the whole post for more, and for links. I want to echo one thing Prof. Collins said—the ACLU continues to argue for free speech, including speech that many on the left find offensive (see, e.g., its briefs in the Confederate license plate case and the Slants trademark case. But I do think that Prof. Collins (generally a friend of the ACLU, I think) has a good point: Especially in a year when there have been a huge amount of free speech disputes in the news, chiefly at universities, what the ACLU chooses not to stress in its fundraising letter is some indication of its likely priorities and future directions.


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