Roger Baldwin (the ACLU's Founding Director):

A comment to my "the ACLU, Communists, and private organizations" post asked for evidence supporting my claims about Roger Baldwin, the ACLU's Founding Director (for the details of those claims, see that post). That's a very fair question; part of the answer is to point people to Robert C. Cottrell's Roger Nash Baldwin and the American Civil Liberties Union (Columbia University Press 2000), which I believe is generally seen as a fair-minded and on balance positive biography. But I thought I'd also quote excerpts from a rather striking article published by Mr. Baldwin in Soviet Russia Today in 1934 (I've also put a copy of the entire text here) (emphasis in original):

I believe in non-violent methods of struggle as most effective in the long run for building up successful working class power. Where they cannot be followed or where they are not even permitted by the ruling class, obviously only violent tactics remain. I champion civil liberty as the best of the non-violent means of building the power on which workers rule must be based. If I aid the reactionaries to get free speech now and then, if I go outside the class struggle to fight against censorship, it is only because those liberties help to create a more hospitable atmosphere for working class liberties. The class struggle is the central conflict of the world; all others are incidental.

Proletarian Liberty in Practice

When that power of the working class is once achieved, as it has been only in the Soviet Union, I am for maintaining it by any means whatever. Dictatorship is the obvious means in a world of enemies at home and abroad. I dislike it in principle as dangerous to its own objects. But the Soviet Union has already created liberties far greater than exist elsewhere in the world. They are liberties that most closely affect the lives of the people — power in the trade unions, in peasant organizations, in the cultural life of nationalities, freedom of women in public and private life, and a tremendous development of education for adults and children. . . .

I saw in the Soviet Union many opponents of the regime. I visited a dozen prisons — the political sections among them. I saw considerable of the work of the OGPU. I heard a good many stories of severity, even of brutality, and many of them from the victims. While I sympathized with personal distress I just could not bring myself to get excited over the suppression of opposition when I stacked it up against what I saw of fresh, vigorous expressions of free living by workers and peasants all over the land. And further, no champion of a socialist society could fail to see that some suppression was necessary to achieve it. It could not all be done by persuasion. . . .

[I]f American champions of civil liberty could all think in terms of economic freedom as the goal of their labors, they too would accept "workers' democracy" as far superior to what the capitalist world offers to any but a small minority. Yes, and they would accept — regretfully, of course — the necessity of dictatorship while the job of reorganizing society on a socialist basis is being done.

Quite remarkable words, it seems to me, from the head of an American civil liberties organization. To his credit, Baldwin apparently recanted in 1939 (though, as I said, that was mighty late), and turned into a severe critic of the Soviet regime. And of course even in the 1930s, many in the ACLU were anti-Communist, and today's ACLU ought not be judged because of the failings of an ACLU leader in the 1930s. Still, it seems to me that once one reads these words, it becomes hard to call Baldwin an "FDR socialist," unless one has a very dim view of FDR.

Jim Rhoads (mail):
It seems to me that Mr. Baldwin's own contemporaneous words are pretty good evidence of his motives for organizing and leading the ACLU at that time. That is not to say, of course, that all who participated in that endeavor then or now shared in those views.

What is amazing is the stark "end justifies the means" thinking. As if civil liberties are not valuable in themselves, but only to serve the ends of the establishment of a socialist state.

There are remarkable parallels today in the thinking on the leftward end today's political spectrum. Lip service to freedoms but only so long as that freedom leads to the conduct desired by that part of the spectrum.

Reading that article is eye opening in the hindsight of history.
9.7.2005 9:46pm
I guess your caveat in the last paragraph pretty much invalidates the inferences we are to draw from the prior quotes. So why waste the bytes?
9.7.2005 9:47pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Dstraws: I didn't know there was a byte shortage! But in case there isn't, have you had a chance to look at the original post, the comment to that post, and then this post, in which I respond to the comment? I would have thought that looking at them would make clear why I spent the bytes -- the commenter asked me for evidence supporting my original claims about some ACLU leaders' stance on Communism in the 1930s, and now I'm giving that evidence. Doesn't that make sense?
9.7.2005 10:26pm
Andy (mail) (www):
Another (somewhat pro-ACLU biased) source is a film for PBS called "Defending Everybody: The ACLU" made for PBS about 6 years ago. It goes into (briefly) Baldwin's Communist background and mentions the anti-Communist purges in the ACLU in the 50's.

Although I must admit that reading Baldwin's exact words in context is more enlightening than just acknowledging that "The ACLU was founded by Communists".
9.7.2005 11:14pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I'm a bit skeptical of recantations by high-profile folks. It means that, after having accepted everything they saw--and high-profile folks see a lot--for a substantial period, they suddenly decide that the same facts now have a different meaning.
The sequential one-eighties in the period leading up to WW II were tactical, not moral.
The commies opposed bomb shelters in poor neighborhoods in London with some semi-rational excuse. When the Blitz caused casualties in the poor neighborhoods, the commies complained about class inequities. Was that foresight on their part, or just opportunism?

Rebecca West in her "The New Meaning of Treason" looks at the phenomenon from Lord Haw Haw to Profumo, and makes the observation that the commies kept some high-profile folks ready to recant loudly and publicly in response to a scandal that could not be managed or hushed up. This was, I gather, to demonstrate that the subversives had been found out and defanged. Not true, of course.

So I wonder about Baldwin.
9.7.2005 11:43pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Some have attributed Baldwin's 1934 views to the shock of the Great Depression, but he expresses similar views in his 1928 book, Liberty Under the Soviets, a copy of which I own (though it's in storage right now).
9.8.2005 12:05am
historian of the USSR:
Any chance you can give an exact date for this publication? It is a fascinating piece, so typical of the Communist mindset at the time. Having spent many years studying and writing Soviet history, I would characterize this piece as well beyond typical "fellow traveler" fare. It would be somewhat surprising if Baldwin was never a Party member given his utter fluency in Marxist Bolshevik rhetoric. (This could easily seem to come from The ABC's of Communism or other orthodox Bolshevik tracts.) Even if he was non-Party, he was clearly a Communist (and not just a "sympathizer" which would imply a lot less commitment and belief than this article shows.)
9.8.2005 12:15am
Brian G (mail) (www):
I don't blame the ACLU for their leader in 1939. I see 3 things:

1 - Fights all over the country to remove all traces of religion from the public square.

2 - Failure to defend property rights, i.e. Kelo

3 - Professing "neutrality" on the 2nd Amendment when we all know they are anti-gun rights.

If those stances combined don't equal communism, then everything I ever learned about communism was wrong. The ACLU leadership has changed. Their methods have changed. Their goals have not.
9.8.2005 12:15am
Brian G (mail) (www):
Oh, and I once read "Liberty Under the Soviets." Perhaps I should right a similar book and title it, "Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia."
9.8.2005 12:17am
I didn't know there was a byte shortage!

Yep. That's why we recycle 'em.
9.8.2005 12:26am
Eugene Volokh (www):
Historian: Ask and ye shall receive. It's Soviet Russia Today, vol. 3 (Sept. 1934), p. 11, or at least that's the cite that I got from a source, and that enabled the library to get the article off microfiche.
9.8.2005 1:37am
Elliot (mail):
Interesting. Thanks!
9.8.2005 9:20am
historian of the USSR:
Thanks, Eugene. There is an interesting bit of background on the magazine at
9.8.2005 10:19am
Shannon Love (mail) (www):

I am continually surprised by the level of self-delusion that has often overtaken very intelligent, well educated and sincere people. Baldwin saw in the Soviet Union what he wanted to see in the Soviet Union and as a result became an active enabler of the horrors that occurred there.

During the Vietnam war "peace" activist eagerly swallowed virtually every piece of communist propaganda. Ho Chi Min was a nationalist first and foremost and communist second if at all. There were no Soviet or Chinese troops in North Vietnam. There were no North Vietnamese troops in Cambodia. The Kahmer Rouge "represented the legitimate aspirations of the Cambodian people" as Chomsky famously said. "Peace" activist wanted these things to be true so badly they ignored all evidence to the contrary.

This kind of delusion persist to this day. People project all kinds of nonsense onto the motivations and actions of terrorist in Iraq and elsewhere. Like Baldwin they see in such people and movements what they want to see. The decide what must be true to support their own political goals and then declare that reality fits their preconceptions.
9.8.2005 12:04pm
D.B. Carpenter (mail):
A very good academic book that deals with similar topics is David Engerman's _Modernization from the Other Shore: American Intellectuals and the Romance of Russian Development_ (Harvard, 2003). Folks interested in this thread would probably enjoy it. Here it is on amazon:
Engerman book
9.8.2005 1:21pm
Glenn W Bowen (mail):
in 1939 many people involved with the communist party (here and around the world) were brought up short by the non-agression pact between russia and germany- anti-facist groups that had been usurped as communist fronts made, in retrospect, some amusing twists and turns to explain away the agreement between the two countries. many felt stalin had sold them out.

with russia as his ideal, was baldwin renouncing communism, or the country he described as where the power of the working class was the only place on earth where that power was realized? to sum up, was he renouncing the country, the ideology, or both?
9.8.2005 1:44pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Mr. Bowen.

How about neither?

How about a tactical move based on the fact that communists always promote what they're doing as the best thing for the country in which they are working?

Initially, Naziism was a good thing because it would cause a revolt and the communists could take over.
When it proved too strong for that, it became a bad thing.
When Hitler and Stalin got together, it became, at least, a not-so-bad thing compared to the bosses' war.
When Hitler invaded Russia, it became a bad thing. A very bad thing and Stalin's excellent statesmanship that was helping Hitler hammer France and Britain and the rest of Europe turned into a deposit into the memory hole.

Communists had a very hard time insisting that they were trying to do things for the best in, say, Britain, when Stalin was clearing Hitler's eastern flank and selling him trainloads of raw materials. In 1941, with Barbarossa, things turned around, although, in the West, Britain was no worse off.

Seeming to bail on the process of neck-snapping one-eighties is much easier to defend than continuing the dance with who-knows-what steps demanded by the party next.

This does not mean Baldwin or any other recanters had suddenly seen the light, only that they'd changed tactics.
9.8.2005 2:42pm
Glenn W Bowen (mail):
Mr. Aubry,

"This does not mean Baldwin or any other recanters had suddenly seen the light, only that they'd changed tactics."

your statement is the point I was chasing for confirmation, that is I would suspect he stayed a red.

thanks for providing it.
9.8.2005 7:55pm
Thrax (mail):
You do realize that you're all floundering in the swamps of conjecture? That no one's "confirmed" anything? Just checking.
9.8.2005 10:39pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Thrax. I realize it. Since post-death mindreading is chancy, we have to go with speculation and probabilities.

My assessment is that nobody in Baldwin's position or in other positions considerably less notable could have been ignorant of the faults of communism. They were mature men and women, not adolescent rebels. They'd traveled, seen what was going on, worked like hell to cover it up, or excuse it, or smear the victims (kulaks, for example).
To believe they later saw the light when there were no new facts of any moment is the low-range possibility. Given the tactics of communists, lying about recantation is the high-range possibility.

Now, one may say we haven't proven or confirmed anything. We go with what we have. I would, though, ask the question of what kind of reparation would somebody in Baldwin's place offer. Seppuku is restricted to those with honor in the first place. A change of career to, say, something like Mother Teresa comes to mind. A tireless speaker on the evils of communism is certainly a possibility, and offers the chance of speaker fees.

An organization I had never heard of, the World AntiCommunist League, had a high-ranking position designed to keep Nazis, neo or paleo, out. I first heard about it in Gen. Singlaub's autobio, where he mentioned he had that position. Perhaps Baldwin could have been the ACLU's first keep-commies-out staffer.

I don't recall that he did anything of the sort.
You'd think that somebody, eyes opened to the horror he'd been promoting, would have done something a bit more effective, at least to soothe his well-earned guilt.
9.8.2005 11:34pm
It's perfectly fair to argue that the ACLU is wrong about this issue or that. But the last few posts demonstrate the irrationality of much of the anti-ACLU hatred.

People criticized Baldwin for being pro-communist. Baldwin denounced the communists (belatedly, but denounced nonetheless), and the ACLU then worked to purge communists from its ranks.

The critics then argue that it was all tactical? In essence, the critics argue that the ACLU is supporting communism by denouncing the ideology and purging itself of communist members. What a fiendishly clever plot.
9.9.2005 7:45am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I dunno, pub. I'm talking about Baldwin.

I'm convinced his move was tactical. The question, for me, is how a man could, after disposing of a considerable portion of his adult life to communism, suddenly decide he'd been wrong. How come it took him so long? It's either a matter of him being obtuse to a degree that is inconceivable in an accomplished man, and then he got all better? Then he saw the light? Easier to believe it was tactical.

I would apply the same questions to other individuals.

I would not consider an organization to be like an individual, but under the general leadership of a few individuals. They set the tone. Those who don't like it don't join, or leave.

I think the current question is whether the individual members of the ACLU are more comfortable with communists than is wise, or than they are with, say, subscribers to National Review.

While it's true that resources are not infinite, that gives us an opportunity to observe the choices that finite resources require.
To simply say, we can't do everything, means you have to choose what you want to do more than anything else.
And the rest of us can watch and draw conclusions. What is more important, and less?
9.9.2005 12:47pm
Thrax (mail):
If I may summarize:

(1) Baldwin/other ACLU founders once appear to have supported Communism. They later denounced it. They may not have been sincere in doing so; in their heart of hearts, they may secretly still have wanted Communism to flourish. They may have wanted to beat back Nazism and then return to the class struggle. They may have been invaders from the planet Zort, seeking to enslave us all. Whatever we conjecture about what they wanted, they continued to lead an ACLU that in neither word nor deed advanced Communist goals; it advocated, and continues to advocate, for civil liberties in ways that (shockingly) not everyone agrees with, which some, including some in this thread, are happy to conflate with Communism. In other words, "whether the individual members of the ACLU are more comfortable with communists than is wise," assuming you're talking about such members in 2005, is not a question rationally posed by discussing what was on Roger Baldwin's mind in 1939. It's simply an irrelevant smear.

2. It's possible that said people could have done more to expose the evils of Communism than merely denouncing it. It's also possible that they could have tumbled to their realization earlier. Naughty. Bad, bad people. Dig 'em up and put a stake through their hearts. Their intelligence/good faith/moral worth has nary a thing to do with the merits of the ACLU today, which, of course, people are free to debate.

So if you want to argue that the ACLU's current activities demonstrate sympathy with Communism, by all means do so. Please be specific. But unless there's a "Roger Baldwin Was A Wonderful Guy In Every Way" society running around that I haven't noticed, the historical argument doesn't really amount to much.
9.9.2005 1:11pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Jeez, Thrax. Baldwin was the subject of the thread.

The next question is what the ACLU is up to now and does Baldwin's career shed any light on it.

If, as I presume, Baldwin's switch was tactical, the question next is what his subsequent activities were to be.

Communists know you can't overthrow a reasonably satisfied society. Years ago, during the reign of apartheid in South Africa, I was in a grad class discussing the possibility of revolt--and its puzzling absence. We talked in terms of the then war in Viet Nam. Sanctuaries, terrain, big-power suppliers and so forth. I made the observation that the people, as bad as their circumstances were, may have figured out that revolution would be worse, and they weren't miserable enough to revolt. "They'll have to be made miserable," said another grad student. He was black, wishing unquantifiable quantities of suffering on his people in order to make them desperate enough to revolt.
Only in circumstances of chaos can communism come to power.
It follows that chaos is a desired intermediate step.

So we may want to look at the ACLU and ask if it's promoting chaos in some understated way. By their actions, do we have more criminals walking the streets? Yes. Is there a case to be made that it's the result of improved justice administration and that we all benefit--except the victims--in the aggregate? Yes, except it's a hell of a hard sell. The next step, a reaction, an oppressive interest in being tough on crime, which hammers the innocent, too.
Is this the normal ebb and flow of a society trying to find an equilibrium? Probably.
But the communists originally thought the Nazi oppression would trigger a revolt which they, themselves, would ride to power.
So, it is not entirely impossible that, to use the foregoing as a single example, the ACLU is looking for the revolution.
I don't think so. The problem is, if they were communist, it's one of the things they'd do.
Personally, I think the ACLU should go away and a new organization, without the baggage, should form to do most of the same things.

Some years ago, I spoke with an ACLU guy in the Detroit area, telling him I had talked to a coach at a high school who told me his kids (some of whom I'd coached earlier and knew as pretty hard cases) got together before a game and prayed. That shouldn't be allowed, he said. The ACLU's PUBLIC position is that this is perfectly allowable. Perhaps the guy misunderstood me to say I was in the ACLU as well. Anyway, he then told me with pride how they'd forced a high school to set aside a room for Muslim students to pray in. Now that I think about it, it's likely he thought I was a member. Hmm.
Anyway, I called ACLU higher and discovered their public position on the first case was different and on the second issue, what's my complaint, anyway. Am I against Muslims?

We need a new bunch, with new initials.
9.9.2005 3:00pm
ACLU founder Roger Baldwin's position -- that communism is the ultimate goal, and civil liberties are only to be promoted as long as it directly or indirectly promotes that goal -- has parallels in the ACLU's position today.

The ACLU supports free speech on street corners and public property, because there most (but not all) speakers are leftist. (What normal person would rant on a street corner? Any normal person speaks softly in a workplace or school, not loudly in a public place).

The ACLU's national organization opposes free speech in workplaces and schools where many speakers are conservative. (Some ACLU local chapters do support free speech on campus, however. They get no assistance from the national ACLU for that, though).

That's why the ACLU defends Nazi marches as free speech (because most public picketing is by leftists, not Nazis, meaning that defending the Nazis' right to picket indirectly benefits leftwing groups), while seeking to silence workplace criticisms of affirmative action as "discriminatory harassment."

Recall 1980's-era ACLU director Burt Neuborne's assertion that only "destabilizing" speakers seeking to change the status quo (like communists, unionists, klansmen, radical feminists, and Nazis) should get full First Amendment protection, while "stabilizing," status quo speakers (like a Chamber of Commerce president speaking in his workplace) should not get full protection.
9.9.2005 3:55pm
Allen Asch (mail) (www):
I appreciate Prof Volokh providing the full text of the article on which he based his assessment of Roger Baldwin's supposedly communist beliefs. Reading the full text, I see a few things not evident in the quoted excerpts.

First, and most importantly, I note in this essay that Baldwin is not arguing to civil libertarians that they should support communism, he is arguing to communists that they should support civil liberties. In my previous comment, I quoted a source describing Baldwin's decision during this time to take the ACLU into the leftist "Popular Front" against fascism because he was "ever a coalition builder." In that context, it's at least possible some of his use of the terminology of dialectical materialism is meant as a means of persuasion rather than a statement of belief. Parts of the full text support this interpretation. Baldwin never actually claimed to be a communist and wrote a couple sentences like this one: "If we were Communists, they say, our position would be defensible." If Baldwin were a communist, why wouldn't he just call himself one in his attempt to gain support from communists instead of beginning a sentence with "If we were Communists...?"

In addition, some of Baldwin's statements of his own beliefs in the essay are not exactly communist. For example, Baldwin did not profess a belief in the necessity of violent revolution, writing "I believe in non-violent methods of struggle as most effective in the long run for building up successful working class power." This statement contradicts communist doctrine that "the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat." See, e.g., this link: The Communist Manifesto.

Thus, though I agree that this Baldwin article does provide adequate support for Prof. Volokh's paragraph about Baldwin that I questioned in my last comment, it does not support the assertion of some others that Baldwin was a communist. Baldwin never joined the Communist Party, never called himself a communist, even referred to himself as not being a communist, and held beliefs at odds with communist doctrine.

Still, I do not want to minimize the wrongheadedness of Baldwin's statements in this essay. Favoring "economic rights" over civil liberties and being willing to jettison the latter to gain the former or to achieve any end, however worthy, is totally unacceptable. If the executive director of the ACLU said these things today, I would resign my membership immediately. I do know, however, that the ACLU has never adopted this belief in "economic rights," even in Baldwin's time, despite attempts by some to push the ACLU that way. As Nadine Strossen explained in one interview:

"We have never taken the position, despite repeated requests from certain elements within the organization, that you should have a fundamental right to 'property,' that the government should guarantee an income or guarantee a house. However, we have always taken the position that, if the government chooses to distribute certain benefits, it may not do so in a way that violates fundamental rights, including depriving you of the property that the government has chosen to give you, without certain procedural protections." See this link: Reason Magazine interview.

I am also glad to see Prof. Volokh reiterate his point that Baldwin "recanted in 1939 (though, as I said, that was mighty late), and turned into a severe critic of the Soviet regime." Anyone who questions Baldwin's "recantation" and criticism of the Soviet regime should read his book: A New Slavery: The Communist Betrayal of Human rights. My only real remaining criticism of Prof. Volokh's assessment of Baldwin is the method by which he determines that Baldwin was "mighty late," i.e., because his rejection of the Soviet Union came "not with Stalin's ascent, not with the Ukrainian famine, not with the Terror and the show trials — he defended the Soviets even after that — but only in 1939, with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact." Baldwin's rejection of the communists should be judge not in relation to when Stalin's crimes occurred, but in relation to when Baldwin learned of those crimes and their enormity. On that point, the article Prof. Volokh provided actually argues in Baldwin's favor. Baldwin's rosy descriptions of the Soviet Union show he was unaware of most of Stalin's crimes, certainly his worst atrocities which were not widely known for quite some time after they occurred.

It's not like there's some picture of Baldwin shaking hands with the dictator after American intelligence records he was told about the dictator's slaughter of his own people. Such a picture would look something like the one at this link: Shaking hands with a dictator.

Couldn't resist...

Allen Asch
9.9.2005 4:13pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Dear Mr. Asch.

Walter Duranty also provided rosy descriptions.

This means what, exactly?

Are you suggesting that a man in Baldwin's position didn't know anything except what the New York Times told him?
9.9.2005 4:55pm
The ACLU's ideological double-standard of supporting civil liberties only when convenient to the leftist cause continues to this day.

Witness the comments former ACLU director Burt Neuborne made in the late 1990's, arguing that "destabilizing" speakers opposed to the status quo (for example, a communist) should get full First Amendment protection, while "stabilizing" speakers supporting the status quo (for example, a business owner) should get less protection.
9.9.2005 5:02pm
Recall 1980's-era ACLU director Burt Neuborne's assertion that . . . "stabilizing," status quo speakers (like a Chamber of Commerce president speaking in his workplace) should not get full protection.

The ACLU's national organization opposes free speech in workplaces and schools where many speakers are conservative.

The ACLU's ideological double-standard of supporting civil liberties only when convenient to the leftist cause continues to this day.

This thread has degenerated into the same-old-same-old Anti-ACLU ignorance.

The ACLU only supports leftist free speech and speech that helps lefitists? Here's a 2001 case in which aregue that a "Massachusetts ban on tobacco advertising within 1,000 feet of a school or playground is overly broad and violates the First Amendment which protects commercial speech." See,

If you go to this page <>, you will find cases in which the ACLU fought for the right for students to wear Confederate and anti-abortion T-shirts.

It's perfectly fair argue that the ACLU is wrong on the Second Amendment, or that the organization incorrectly balances the right to free speech against the right to be free from illegal discrimination. But it took only a few seconds to find the examples listed above, so there is very little excuse not to have looked before making objectively false arguments.
9.9.2005 5:37pm
The tobacco companies gave lots of money to the ACLU, so it's not surprising that it would defend their free speech rights to advertise their deadly product.

(More troublingly, the ACLU's workplace rights project, underwritten by Big Tobacco, has defended smokers' non-existent "right" to continue smoking in violation of employer rules forbidding smoking, and thus to impose their increased health care costs on their employers).

It's the ACLU's local affiliates that have been opposed to speech codes in schools, not the national ACLU. (The ACLU local affiliates are divided into competing camps: "absolutists" who support free speech and "frontierists" who do not support free speech when they think it "privileges" white males. The "frontierists" basically control the national ACLU).

(Some affiliates are internally split. An Arizona ACLU attorney, Montoya, sued a school district seeking to ban Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn as part of racial harassment suit, even as the Arizona ACLU demanded that the school district not remove the book).

Some of the ACLU's local state affiliates in places like Georgia have supported the right to wear confederate flag T-shirts, but the national ACLU organization has been essentially a passive observer in those cases.

The national ACLU supports banning "racist" and "sexist" speech in the workplace, even if it is not "severe" (the test under federal workplace harassment law) if it adversely affects the "emotional well-being" of the complainant.

The ACLU uses workplace harassment law as a pretext for restricting speech that is not harassing. In Aguilar v. Avis Rent A Car System (Cal. 1999), it argued that racial slurs could be banned from a workplace -- even a single slur uttered out of earshot of minorities -- based on racial harassment that had (as the trial judge found) ended in 1994, meaning that any "hostile work environment" had likely long since dissipated (at least under federal court precedent, which treats hostile environments as dissipating in a year or two, and requires multiple racial epithets to support a claim for a hostile work environment).

(The California Supreme Court bought the ACLU's pro-censorship position in a bitterly-divided 4-to-3 decision that, according to a news story in the San Francisco Chronicle, "stunned constitutional experts" and gave judges "unprecedented powers" to restrict speech.).
9.9.2005 6:31pm