No Constitutional Clause for the Unpopular

Pop quiz: what constitutional right would you give up to take away someone else’s?

I ask because of something I caught on The View this morning. The co-hostesses were discussing the ACLU’s brief filed in support of Senator Larry Craig withdrawing his guilty plea. From there, (how I wished I’d hit record; I can’t find the clip anywhere) the discussion wound back around to the ACLU.

A little background…normally, I feel sorry for Elisabeth Hasselbeck. She’s a staunch defender of her beliefs that are usually attacked on a daily basis. Although I don’t agree with her, I do admire how she stands up for herself, even if she’s not always articulate about her beliefs. However, she undermined that admiration significantly with her position today regarding the ACLU, highlighting that for all the experience she gained on Survivor, she has a very limited world view. What’s more frustrating is I know she isn’t the only one who holds her opinion.

I’ll try to recollect the best I can, and I won’t attempt to direct quote anyone, but the gist of Hasselbeck’s antipathy towards the ACLU stems from their defense of unpopular groups. The examples she referred to were the ACLU fighting to allow a neo-Nazi group to march in Cincinnati through a predominately African-American neighborhood (ACLU’s position; news story) and their defense of NAMBLA‘s right to free speech back in 2000 (note: I won’t link direct to their site to avoid most workplace issues, so I’m sending you to Wikipedia if you want more info).

Unfortunately, she exhibited the attitude I see more frequently than I’d like—“if something is offensive to me, and as long as it doesn’t infringe on MY rights, it shouldn’t be defended.” The ACLU explained their defense of unpopular groups:

The principle is as simple as it is central to true freedom of speech: those who do wrong are responsible for what they do; those who speak about it are not.

It is easy to defend freedom of speech when the message is something many people find at least reasonable. But the defense of freedom of speech is most critical when the message is one most people find repulsive. That was true when the Nazis marched in Skokie. It remains true today.

Regardless of your feelings about the ACLU, I believe they are fighting for a valuable principle—equal defense for all parties as it relates to Constitutional freedoms. While the ACLU still makes my eyebrows rise on occasion (due more to the facts of the case than the principles they’re defending), I wonder when people will understand that we don’t get to pick and choose who enjoys the rights provided by the Constitution. What’s to stop the government and the courts from willy-nilly application of individuals rights and freedoms if all, no matter how personally distasteful, are not defended?

A long time ago, Samuel Adams, our “Father of the American Revolution,” outlined an idea that I think has been largely overlooked if not forgotten:

The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men. (link)

What makes the Elisabeth Hasselbecks of the world believe that their rights aren’t next? And could you answer the quiz? For the record, I can’t think of one.



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September 2007
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