The ACLU reverses course once again in the interest of wokeness

January 30, 2022 • 11:30 am

Last September, a surprising article in the New York Times reported on how the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) seemed to be losing its mission of defending civil liberties, moving more and more towards “progressive” politics. Part of this transformation involved suddenly prioritizing what speech to defend based on its perceived “harm.” More harmful speech (e.g., speech offending minorities or other oppressed groups) was to be given lower legal priority.

This was a complete reversal of the history of the ACLU, an organization that was one of my favorites. (They gave me pro bono legal help when I took the government to court over being illegally called up for alternative service as a conscientious objector.)  Now, it seems, they think that some people deserve more civil rights than others. This was all documented in one of my posts and in an article on Tablet that quoted secret ACLU documents. After Charlottesville, for example, Tablet reports that the ACLU made a momentous decision:

. . . the national ACLU circulated an internal document with new “case selection guidelines,” stipulating, “Speech that denigrates such [marginalized] groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality.” Before agreeing to take a free speech case, the document continued, the ACLU would now consider “the potential effect on marginalized communities,” whether the speech advances the goals of speakers whose “views are contrary to our values,” and the “structural and power inequalities in the community in which the speech will occur.” A manifestation of the ACLU’s new approach can be seen in the decision by one chapter to intervene in a high-profile case at Smith College, where the group amplified bogus claims of racism leveled by a student against some of the school’s custodial and cafeteria staff.

There are many other signs of the ACLU’s change of mission, and you can see my posts on them here. And today there’s yet another, which Zaid Jilani describes in a post on his “inquiremore” site. Click on the screenshot to read.

In brief, Jilani recounts the ACLU’s history of demanding transparency from government, and how it’s now backed off on its history of fostering transparency. The reason is because of the kerfuffle embodied in state bills that ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Parents who don’t want their children exposed to some of the more divisive or questionable aspects of CRT are now asking that curricular materials (syllabi, reading lists, assignments, etc) be made public, i.e., put online.

For the record, I don’t favor those bills. But I don’t see any reason that material involved in public-school classes shouldn’t be made public. (I’m not asking for all teachers to be filmed or recorded, but for the paper record of classroom assignments to be made public.)

The ACLU doesn’t like this, and I’m guessing because they actually want CRT to be taught to children. Do not underestimate their wokeness! If you think I’m exaggerating about the “new ACLU”, have a listen to legendary civil-liberties activist Ira Glasser, once head of the ACLU for 23 years, speaking on Bill Maher’s show. He’s appalled at what’s happened to his baby. Glasser, despite his vocation, is not a man of hot temper, and when he talks this way, you know that he’s really angry:

Back to “transparency”. Here’s the ACLU’s new stand (the ACLU is nearly as hamhanded at tweeting as was Donald Trump):

In that tweet they deliberately conflate CRT with “teaching about race and gender”. People like me—and, in fact, most Americans—favor the latter but not the former. Critical Race Theory, in both its academic construal and in how it’s taught in many schools, is not just “learning and talking about race and gender.” The tweet above is dissimulation.

The ACLU has a history, as I said. of demanding transparency. From Jilani’s post:

This marks a reversal for the ACLU, which has always argued for government transparency in all arenas, including in schools.

As Tablet’s Noam Blum noted, the ACLU of Nevada argued vigorously for transparency when that state’s schools were setting their sex education curriculum and policies.

“The days of back door decision making are over. Compliance with the open meetings law is meant to secure the opportunity of parents, students, and community members to have a meaningful impact on the development of policy. We are all well served when decisions on the appointment of sex education advisory committee members is subject to public scrutiny, rather than the result of the presentation of a narrow range of interests,” Staci Pratt, Legal Director of the ACLU of Nevada, said at the time. The organization used the state’s public records law to request materials related to sex education in each of the state’s 17 counties.

A few years later, the ACLU of Kentucky used records requests to uncover curriculum in all of Kentucky’s 173 school districts, seeking to find evidence of religious instruction by reviewing both policies and curricula:

The ACLU-KY sent requests to all of Kentucky’s 173 school districts seeking policies and curriculum for “Bible Literacy” courses.  While most districts are not offering these courses, the ACLU-KY found many of the courses that are being offered do not fall within constitutional strictures, which require any use of religious text in the classroom to be secular, objective, nondevotional, and must not promote any specific religious view.

The investigation uncovered public school teachers using the Bible to impart religious life lessons (Barren, McCracken, and Letcher Counties), use of online Sunday School lessons and worksheets for course source material and assignments (Letcher and Wayne Counties), and rote memorization of Biblical text (McCracken County) — practices which fall far short of academic and objective study of the Bible and its historical context or literary value.

If you don’t want curricula exposed that deal with race and gender, why do so many people want curricula exposed that deal with creationism being taught in public schools? It was my reading of Eric Hedin’s online syllabi at Ball State University, for example, that led me to discover that he was teaching Intelligent Design creationism in a public college—a violation of the law. The result was that he was forced to stop teaching religion in the guise of science. And, of course, parents foot the bill for their kids’ education, and surely have some rights in at least hearing what their kids are supposed to learn and do.

The ACLU also demanded transparency from schools when they were violating Title IX by segregating sexes:

The ACLU of Alabama was so bothered by government-sanctioned sex segregation in the school system that in 2008 it formally protested and sought documents from Mobile County schools outlining any policies related to the matter:

After hearing from outraged parents of students who, without notice, were involuntarily segregated by sex at Hankins Middle School in Mobile, Alabama, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama sent a letter to the Mobile County School System warning that mandatory sex segregation in public schools is illegal and discriminatory. The civil liberties organization also asked, under the Alabama Open Records Act, that the school district make public any and all documents relating to sex segregation policies in Mobile County schools from the past two years.

One of the things parents are worried about is racial segregation in schools, which is part of the CRT program (in this cases, segregation of graduations, dorms, and events are considered salubrious for minorities). Yet the ACLU demands transparency for sex segregation but opposes it for segregation by race or ethnicity. Why the difference? You know the answer. Jilani dosn’t speculate much about this, though the reasons are clear to all people not blinded by ideology. He finishes his piece this way:

In arguing against transparency in the public school system, the ACLU is departing from its traditional mission. As has been written about elsewhere, the ACLU is increasingly becoming more of an activist progressive organization. Among activist progressives, sensitivities about race and gender have often brought them to take positions that are in tension with classical liberal values like freedom of speech, transparency, and equal treatment under the law. Those same sensitivities appear to be trouncing the ACLU’s longstanding principles in this case.

You can argue that the times are a-changing and it’s more pressing for the ACLU to defend minorities than to defend the civil rights of everyone. You can argue that the First Amendment is outmoded, and equally outmoded is an organization that embodies Mill’s dictum that even the most offensive or contrarian speech should be heard. (Indeed, Hitchens thought such speech should be prioritized.) Yes, you can argue those things.

But if there’s nobody around to defend the civil rights of everyone, then society will become a homogenous stew of “rightspeak”, and only the rights of those who have The Proper Ideology will be protected. That’s exactly what America’s founders wanted to prevent by enacting the First Amendment, and how the courts have construed that Amendment in the last two centuries. As the ACLU becomes a political organization, all we have left is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which still protects civil liberties in a nonpartisan way. But they are limited to rights in education.

As Glasser notes above, if the ACLU goes down the drain, there will be no organization to replace it.  A slight emendation of Antony’s famous quote from Julius Caesar is appropriate:

This was the noblest organization of them all. All the rest of the organizations acted out of political self interest. Only the ACLU acted from honesty and for the general good. Its existence was gentle, and the elements mixed so well in it that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, “This was a great organization.”

26 thoughts on “The ACLU reverses course once again in the interest of wokeness

  1. Thanks for the glaring transparency example. To step back from example to precept, I think the new ACLU policy to decline representation to speakers whose “views are contrary to our values” says it all. That’s about as close as you can come to a full reversal of the ACLU’s original mission.

  2. My mom volunteered for the ACLU back in the 70s. For me it symbolised the values I hold dear still to this day. I don’t always agree with what is written in WEIT, but I read it to keep my mind sharp, especially during these times of “drifting” ideologies that undermine the freedoms I want in my life. It breaks my heart to read about this subversion of principles at the ACLU.

  3. The ACLU’s new policy of shunning free speech cases if the speech might be “contrary to our values” coheres with the trend in a granting agency which more and more rewards speech consistent with certain values, as judged by buzzwords in abstracts. See a recent analysis of NSF grant abstracts: https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2021/11/increased-politicization-and-homogeneity-in-nsf-grants.html .

    This report uses natural language processing to analyze the abstracts of successful grants from 1990 to 2020 in the seven fields of Biological Sciences, Computer & Information Science & Engineering, Education & Human Resources, Engineering, Geosciences, Mathematical & Physical Sciences, and Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences.
    The frequency of documents containing highly politicized terms has been increasing consistently over the last three decades. As of 2020, 30.4% of all grants had one of the following politicized terms: “equity,” “diversity,” “inclusion,” “gender,” “marginalize,” “underrepresented,” or “disparity.” This is up from 2.9% in 1990. The most politicized field is Education & Human Resources (53.8% in 2020, up from 4.3% in 1990). The least are Mathematical & Physical Sciences (22.6%, up from 0.9%) and Computer & Information Science & Engineering (24.9%, up from 1.5%), although even they are significantly more politicized than any field was in 1990.

  4. To place curriculums online will do little or nothing to promote transparency. If a school or an individual teacher is really determined to teach CRT all they need to do is switch neutral words or expressions for hot button CRT trigger words. If a parents want to know what children are learning they can quiz the children about their lessons and review the written material they bring home. However, as Ken K. pointed out yesterday, we may be entering a modern day equivalent of the Red Scare following World War II. Instead of Communists, zealous right-wingers no matter who or where they are can persecute honest teachers trying to do their jobs. It is extremely easy to twist the teaching of race and gender into an accusation of teaching CRT. Putting the curriculum online provides the right-wingers the opportunity to go after teachers in the same manner as the Texas abortion law allows anyone to go after people that assist in helping women obtain abortions.

    If I were teaching in an elementary or secondary school, I would start looking for another occupation. Who in their right mind would want to be a teacher, an occupation that allows people trying their best to educate youth to be subject to harassment, intimidation, the possibility of losing one’s jobs, and possibly even to physical assault? Under the best of circumstances teaching is tough and a labor of love. To add to this, the fear of retribution will be the breaking point for many teachers. The public school educational system could devolve into chaos and possible collapse. Of course, this is just what the right-wingers may be aiming for. I must say they are very good strategic planners that start movements that may take decades to reach successful conclusions. The Supreme Court is an example. That is what may be going on here

    1. I disagree. It was Hedin’s reading list alone that got me onto the fact that he was teaching ID (he had religious books in there). Likewise, if a reading list has only books like “White Fragility” on it, and no McWhorter, then you can get an idea of what the kids are learning. Likewise for written assignments. And yes, you can ask kids what they’re learning.

      So what if putting the curriculum online allows right-wingers to go after it. It could also allow Left wingers to go after it. It is a PUBLIC school, you know.

      I’m curious how you don’t seem opposed to the ACLU favoring putting sex and gender events online but bridle at racial instruction. You seem to think that the curriculum, no matter who determines it, should be absolutely secret lest those damn right wingers find out about it. I’m sorry, but it’s a public school, parents pay for it, and you can’t make a rule just to prevent one end of the ideological spectrum from finding out what kids are being taught.

    2. I totally disagree. If I had children, I would want to know what textbooks are being used and what’s in them. I have googled many college syllabi simply to see what books are being used….especially in freshman science and art history, as I may be interested in them.

      Seems to me that the left wing is every bit as ready to use this or that kind of scare to enforce its politics and ideologies. It’s not just the right.

      1. If you had children, all you would need to do is look at their textbooks and other material sitting on their desks. It is not very difficult to discover what a child is being taught. Also, online material can be accessed by use of passwords making it more difficult for people not directly involved with the class. I also enjoy looking at college syllabi. But, in recent years this has become more difficult because much material needs a password to be accessed.

        In contrast, an elementary or high school teacher in, say Ohio should not be subject to harassment by a Trumpist cult member in Idaho that could twist anything to make it appear sinister. The teacher should be protected from any assault, whether from the left or the right. My heart goes out to teachers that under the guise of transparency are working in a hellish environment that includes low pay and plenty of pressure. There is no need for the whole world to know what is going on in the classroom of these teachers. People with a need to know can find out very easily.

        1. The days of children bringing physical textbooks and learning materials home are pretty much long gone, at least here in the UK.

          Of course parents should talk to their children about what they are being taught, and can investigate further if they have any concerns, but I sus very many don’t take sufficient interest – after all, we know that sadly too many children begin their early education without even basic literacy etc.and get little support or encouragement at home.

          1. I don’t think that’s correct. I have been a primary school governor for over 30 years, and all our pupils take learning materials home, make good use of them, and (usually) bring them back.

            It’s true that only a minority of parents make a fuss, and indeed some of those who do fall into the pushy and sharp-elbowed category; but most of them take an interest and a pride in what their kids do.

            My school is in an affluent middle-class area, so I’m sure my experience is not typical. But I think your comment may overlook the extent to which teachers across the board go out of their way to engage all their students and their parents, as I think has been shown throughout the Covid experience.

          2. Let’s assume for discussion that many parents in the UK don’t take an interest in what their children are being taught. Steve Pollard below disagrees. So, what are you suggesting? Through the principle of transparency, should someone hundreds of miles away without any connection to the school have a say in what is taught there? I have doubts that this would work out well.

            1. Sorry, I wasn’t very clear and wasn’t trying to suggest anything other than that, from personal family experience, school textbooks have disappeared over at least the last five years or so. My youngest (13) hasn’t brought home (or been requested to obtain) any coursework books in years (and ditto her older siblings when they were her age). I didn’t mention teachers and certainly wasn’t trying to disparage them. And yes, most parents take pride and an interest in their children’s education.

              As Steve knows, what is taught in schools is less of an issue at the local level in England since we have a national curriculum (which has its own critics, of course). That said, successive governments have pursued a programme of encouraging (and in some cases forcing) schools to obtain “academy status”, which gives them greater leeway in choosing what they teach whilst simultaneously removing them from the control of the local education authority. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academy_(English_school)

              Transparency and accountability in education are important, whether the decision about what is taught is decided at the national, local authority, or academy level. But so is the recognition that decision-makers have the right to robustly defend their choices (within reason; so no young Earth creationism, etc.) against interference from those with no legitimate stake in them.

        2. Disagree. Whether I have children or not, I still want to know what they are being taught. Especially since I help support those schools and what children learn affects all of us…and that is not a hypothetical.

    3. Surely transparency is the best policy? And if teachers are simply giving a factual and honest account of race over the history of America then they have nothing to fear. If right wingers start objecting, they can just point to the public materials and defy the right wingers to object to factual and honest material.

      1. Let’s see. An elementary or high school teacher needs to be physically in the school building seven or eight hours a day. Then there is commuting – perhaps an hour or more a day. Then there’s grading papers and preparing lessons for another three or four hours a day. Then there’s eating, sleeping and taking care of personal needs. But, the fun doesn’t stop there. Let’s add your suggestion – the teacher can now spend an hour or two providing proof of what is being taught to anyone in the country demanding it. Moreover, your judgment that what is being taught is an “honest account of race” in American history is someone else’s judgment of being CRT. That, may friend, is reality. Can you think of any additional ways to make the job of the teacher easier?

        1. I’ve not seen an “anti-CRT” bill that would cause a problem for any good-faith honest account of race over US history.

          (Though admittedly I’ve not studied the text of every bill, and there are lots of them.)

  5. The ACLU’s direction of travel is very dispiriting.

    For once, there’s a glimmer of good news in the UK, where some organisations are finally backing away from overly “woke” activist positions. One of these is the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which is the statutory regulator of the Equality Act. As The Observer reports in an editorial piece today:

    Last week, [the EHRC] told the Scottish government that its proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which allows trans people to change the way their sex is recorded for legal purposes, should be paused because the consultation on these changes has not adequately taken into account their impact on women’s sex-based rights. The Scottish government is proposing to move to a system whereby people can change their sex for legal purposes through self-declaration, instead of needing a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jan/30/observer-view-ehrc-decision-scotland-gender-recognition-reforms

    This represents a significant change of heart by the EHRC, which refrained from taking action like this in 2018 when the Westminster government was planning a similar (since abandoned) legislative move. I suspect that the change is in large part because the EHRC is one of many institutions, including the BBC and some UK government departments, who recently have had their corporate capture by the trans rights campaigning body Stonewall publicly exposed and have since severed their ties with it.

    (Stonewall has itself has been accused, including by at least one of its founding members, of becoming overly focused on extreme trans rights campaigning positions to the detriment of its original mission of supporting LGB rights more generally.)

    It is also encouraging to see The Observer, which is the Sunday sister newspaper to the daily The Guardian, taking a critical editorial stance on the Scottish government’s plans to introduce self-id.

  6. Not being an American, contributing to the ACLU is not an issue for me. But in the same fashion, Amnesty International has lost any future support from me for the same reasons. Even the Canadian equivalent of the ACLU, the CCLA, has placed ‘Equality’ as the first and most important of its five ‘core beliefs’, and has started down the road of anti-public health measures during the pandemic. Ironically, the basis for that is the cynical and selfish trope that the vulnerable must take responsibility for their health (whatever the living f*ck that means), whilst the young, strong and healthy must be allowed to get on with their lives, which turns out to mean going to bars and sports events. Cue ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’ from Cabaret.

  7. I see that the ACLU has indeed accepted the Woke truism encapsulated in this quotation from a 2012 video since removed from YouTube.

    “Free speech is the right to educated speech. If you utilize your right to ‘freedom of speech’ but then are socially or politically apathetic, you don’t vote, educate yourself on social issues, if you are not involved in the community, if you are not involved in being a citizen, an educated citizen, you have no right to free speech.”

  8. Opposing transparency in teaching curricula suggests that the ACLU and its like-minded ilk either a) don’t have the courage of their convictions about what’s being taught or b) would like to keep it a secret.

    Neither is a good look.

  9. In that tweet they deliberately conflate CRT with “teaching about race and gender”. People like me—and, in fact, most Americans—favor the latter but not the former.

    They way I read it is they’re conflating CRT with “learning about race” and “learning about gender” is something separate. It’s not sex education or even promoting gay and lesbian tolerance here, but specifically teaching schoolchildren Gender ideology: sex is a spectrum, it’s assigned at birth, being a boy or girl is an internal feeling or subjective knowledge, some girls have penises, some boys vaginas, etc. etc. There are a lot of stories and other material aimed at even very young children which would show up and be easily spotted on curriculum plans. And most Americans aren’t okay with it.

    It’s safe to say that the ACLU sees teaching about gender as one of their top priorities. They’re probably not just bundling it into CRT.

  10. I am in favor of curriculum transparency for public schools. ACLUs position that it would only be used by people they disagree with to disrupt “good” education does not hold up. The examples of the ACLU in the past using information about what is taught in schools to protect students rights under the law are convincing to illustrate the importance of transparency. Of course people who disagree with me are also going to use transparency to further their position. Better to argue in the open than manipulate in the shadows.

  11. Fiona Hill was on Maher’s 1/28/22 show. They discussed Ukraine and Russia. Maher had every reasonable opportunity to ask her if she thought Russia had a legitimate security interest in NATO not expanding to countries with which Russia shared a boundary. Hill had every reasonable opportunity of her own volition to broach the subject. Neither did.

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