New York Civil Liberties Union vs. "Unwanted, Abusive, and Intrusive Military Recruitment Tactics":

The NYCLU press release reports:

The New York Civil Liberties Union today announced its major campaign against unwanted, abusive and intrusive military recruitment tactics in schools. The beginning of a new school year marks the opening of another season of military recruiting of high school students as the military exercises the authority it gained under little-known provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act. Such provision have been interpreted as a requirement that school authorities turn over student contact lists to the military and afford its recruiters unprecedented access to students in school. . . .

"The military is setting its sights on vulnerable groups of young people as it tries to meet the demands for more soldiers to fight an increasingly unpopular war." said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU.

"We send our children to school for an education, not to become military targets. Unfortunately, little noticed provisions of No Child Left Behind have given the military unprecedented access to students in school and an aggressive military has turned some of our schools into a recruiting ground. The NYCLU seeks to ensure that they respect the privacy rights of the children and do not interfere with education."

As part of its campaign, the NYCLU will begin distributing a new pamphlet "No Student Left Unrecruited" outside high schools in New York City today. The pamphlet outlines student rights and provides a tear-off form that students can submit to their schools to remove their name from the recruiting lists sent to the military.

The NYCLU campaign also includes:

* a new NYCLU military recruiting Web site,, which contains student rights information, forms and legal analyses that will help students, parents and educators protect student privacy rights and report recruiting abuses;

* a confidential complaint center where students, parents and educators can report abusive recruiting tactics;

* plans to contact to every school superintendent in the state, urging them to replace ineffective parental "opt-out" procedures that leave virtually no child unrecruited, with an instant in-class student opt-out form that allows students to remove themselves from the military recruiting lists. . . .

In the past there have been complaints of intimidation, deception and harassment by military recruiters in person, by telephone and by e-mail. In some schools, military recruiters have made themselves a regular presence with weekly visits and extensive access to students. Special military marketing materials target students of color. . . .

Of course, "abusive" military recruitment tactics, including "intimidation, deception and harassment" are surely wrong, and generally counterproductive -- they risk alienating the very students whom the military is trying to recruit, and of course their friends as well. The site doesn't point to specific instances of this, but if there are such instances, they should certainly be complained about.

Yet I wonder about other aspects of the NYCLU's complaints, for instance:

1. Why is there a civil liberties problem with unwanted military recruitment? If you don't want the military to offer you a job, you can just say "no, thanks." How is it a violation of your civil liberties to be approached in the first instance? (Yes, I realize that the school is giving the military contact information, but how does providing this information interfere with anyone's civil liberty?) Is it really an aspect of our civil liberty not even to be asked to join?

2. What exactly is the civil liberties problem with "ineffective parental 'opt-out' procedures that leave virtually no child unrecruited"? Presumably the procedures are "ineffective" because parents don't choose to use them. And there seems to be little wrong with a circumstance in which virtually no child is unrecruited. Even if "in-class student opt-out" is more "effective" at removing students from recruiting lists, why is that a plus for civil liberty?

3. The ACLU generally supports race-based affirmative action, including race-based outreach. Many of its allies in this campaign point to the military as an example of an institution that effectively practices such race-based affirmative action. Wouldn't the military "targeting students of color" -- and offering them important training opportunities, though of course ones that also carry considerable personal risk -- therefore be good?

4. The ACLU generally takes the view that young people are mature enough to exercise their free speech rights, abortion rights, and so on. Yet here the NYCLU characterizes older teenagers, who are presumably 17 or 18 when they sign up (I'm not sure whether the military enlists 17-year-olds, but let's even assume that they are), as "vulnerable groups of young people." Why aren't these students, especially when they turn 18 and are adults, entitled to learn about the options they have available to them -- options they may find financially, educationally, and patriotically valuable?

5. Why exactly does it matter for civil liberties purposes whether the war is increasingly unpopular or not?

I ask above what the civil liberties problems are with the military's actions, because I assume the NYCLU is still an organization that's focused on civil liberties; I realize it may define them differently than how others may define them, yet one would think that there is still a boundary to what is a civil liberties issue.

Naturally, if this were the New York Anti-Military-Recruiting Union setting up this project, or even the New York Pacifists' Union or the New York Anti-War-in-Iraq-Union or the New York Anti-Bush-Administration-Union, I wouldn't be asking these questions: It would be quite clear why those groups might want to decrease the effectiveness of the Administration's military recruiting plans. (Not all those groups might want to take these steps; for instance, many foes of the Bush Administration or even of the war effort might not want to try to decrease the effectiveness of recruiting. But at least I could understand why some such groups would act this way.)

What I don't quite see is why the New York Civil Liberties Union would see this as part of its agenda.

For more, including the views of Nat Hentoff, a former ACLU board member, see this New York Sun article.