A group of former American Civil Liberties Union officials, employees, and longtime supporters are caling for the ouster of the ACLU's current leadership and a renewed focuson the organization's founding principles. As the New York Times reports
The new group is made up of donors, former board and staff members, and the lawyer who won what was perhaps the A.C.L.U.'s most famous legal battle, its defense of the right of Nazis to march through a predominantly Jewish suburb of Chicago.
According to the missoin statement posted on the group's website, SavetheACLU.org:
We believe strongly in the ACLU and believe the ACLU is especially important now during a time of grave and systemic attacks on civil liberties by the national government. But an ACLU compromised by its repeated failures to practice what it preaches will be unable to resist these attacks for long. Our credibility and effectiveness depend upon our consistency of principle.
We come together now, reluctantly but resolutely, not to injure the ACLU but to restore its integrity, and its consistency of principle and remedy its failure to apply to itself core civil liberties principles that it insists everyone else observe. The failure to practice what we preach-- until publicly embarrassed-- has already done grievous injury to the ACLU and ultimately threatens its historic mission.
We applaud the ACLU's recent fundraising successes , but they cannot compensate for or justify persistent breaches of principle or the abandonment of honesty when those breaches are revealed. The ACLU now stands exposed, and widely ridiculed, for repeatedly acting in contempt of its own core principles, and for chilling and even attempting to prohibit dissent within its own ranks.
Over the past three years, these breaches of principle include the ACLU's approval of grant agreements that restrict speech and associational rights; efforts by management to impose gag rules on staff and to subject staff to email surveillance; a proposal to bar ACLU board members from publicly criticizing the ACLU; and informal campaigns to purge the ACLU of its internal critics.
All of these breaches, as well as others, violate the ACLU's historic commitment to free speech. We take little comfort from the fact that some were reversed after bad publicity and donor complaints.
According to Ira Glasser, one of those listed on the protest site
We're not starting a new organization . . . "We're a protest group, trying to get the board to exercise its fiduciary and governing responsibility in a way that it has not. We're loyal to the existing organization and above all to the principles it is intended to advance.
Learning about the ACLU's efforts to protect free speech, including their work in Skokie, inspired me as a child. As an adult, however, I've often felt that the organization had lost its way. Maybe this protest will serve as a useful corrective.