ACLU Derangement Syndrome:

There's Bush Derangement Syndrome, there's Those Darned Jews Derangement Syndrome, there's Those Awful Somdomites Derangement Syndrome, and there's ACLU Derangement Syndrome. Clayton Cramer points to a very interesting lawsuit in Italy (I quote the Times (London) story, which makes the matter seem somewhat more troubling than the Washington Times story that Cramer links to):

AN ITALIAN judge has ordered a priest to appear in court this month to prove that Jesus Christ existed.

The case against Father Enrico Righi has been brought in the town of Viterbo, north of Rome, by Luigi Cascioli, a retired agronomist who once studied for the priesthood but later became a militant atheist.

Signor Cascioli, author of a book called The Fable of Christ, began legal proceedings against Father Righi three years ago after the priest denounced Signor Cascioli in the parish newsletter for questioning Christ’s historical existence.

Yesterday Gaetano Mautone, a judge in Viterbo, set a preliminary hearing for the end of this month and ordered Father Righi to appear. The judge had earlier refused to take up the case, but was overruled last month by the Court of Appeal, which agreed that Signor Cascioli had a reasonable case for his accusation that Father Righi was “abusing popular credulity”.

Signor Cascioli’s contention — echoed in numerous atheist books and internet sites — is that there was no reliable evidence that Jesus lived and died . . . .

Signor Cascioli’s one-man campaign came to a head at a court hearing last April when he lodged his accusations of “abuse of popular credulity” and “impersonation”, both offences under the Italian penal code. . . .

But then, after noting the story, the post goes on:
Now, I would like to think that the freedom of religion and freedom of the press provisions of the First Amendment would prevent such a suit from going forward in the U.S.--but you never know what cleverness the ACLU will pull out of its bag of magic tricks next.

In Britain, a prominent scientist is arguing that religion is a form of child abuse [quote omitted] . . . .

Ah, that's it! The ACLU will argue that children have a right to not be mentally abused by exposure to religion. This was, after all, the policy of the Soviet Union, which prohibited teaching religion to those under 18, and the ACLU's founder was a defender of Soviet practices on civil liberties. . . .

Utterly missing is any foundation whatsoever supporting the assertion that the ACLU would support any such speech restriction. That the ACLU's founder was originally a defender of the USSR is quite right, but what happened in the 1930s tells us very little about what the ACLU is likely to do 70 years later. (It's also quite incomplete, I think, without an acknowledgment that Baldwin later turned into a severe critic of the USSR and of Communism.) The ACLU has on balance been a strong supporter of free speech claims; not as strong as I might have liked at times (including in some cases involving private religious speech in public schools and , though note its correct view in this religious speech case), but hardly a fit target for aspersions such as these.

When I queried Mr. Cramer about this (with a message that read "Interesting subject -- but do you have any foundation whatsoever for the suggest that the ACLU would make any such arguments?"), he responded:

Its long history of opposing religious instruction in public schools, even when multiple beliefs were being taught, with the permission of the parents? I'm thinking of McCollum v. Board of Education (1948). I don't know if they participated in that suit or not, but I do know that they have participated in suits attempting to suppress far less substantial expressions of Christianity, such as the Los Angeles County seal idiocy.
But surely there's a very big difference -- a difference that First Amendment law has long made clear -- between what government agencies may say, and what private institutions and individuals (including churches) may say. Even many conservatives would agree, for instance, that government-run schools shouldn't teach specific aspects of religious doctrine (e.g., that Presbyterianism provides the proper theology, and all else is error and heresy); even Justice Scalia's opinion in the Ten Commandments case, for instance, was limited to government speech that took no sides within the Christian/Jewish/Muslim monotheistic tradition. Yet this tells us nothing about what churches or priests may say on their own. Mr. Cramer goes on to write:
Most people that aren't lawyers can see that the ACLU's mission hasn't changed since Roger Baldwin wrote that article about the Soviet Union.
I've criticized the ACLU often before, probably more often than I've defended them. I'm sure I'll criticize them often in the future.

But, unfortunately, it seems to me that much criticism of the ACLU of the right reflects more by way of knee-jerk hostility than simply well-founded ideological disagreement. The four Derangement Syndromes I noted in the first paragraph (yes, the term is partly facetious; I don't think it's literal "derangement") have different moral qualities -- but what they share in common is a hostility that causes the speaker to miss contrary evidence, and to lose a sense of perspective. Bush has this effect on some; Clinton had this effect on some in the past; the NRA has this effect on some; the ACLU has it on some, too.