Thursday, January 06, 2005

ACLU defends religious conservatives

Even though my consulting work with ACLU of Texas concerns only criminal justice issues, near constantly we contend with some religious conservative who won't listen to fact-based arguments about the justice system because they believe ACLUers are a bunch of atheistic, ten-commandments hating, abortion loving nutballs who don't have anything better to do than sue the Boy Scouts for excluding gays.

Over the years, I've come to find that attitude ironic for a number of reasons. For starters, ACLU of Texas works closely with a lot of religious folks on criminal justice issues, so my own day-to-day experience simply betrays the charge. After 9-11, even former religious critics banded together with ACLU to oppose the PATRIOT Act and homeland security-related abuses. That happened in Texas, too, as evidenced by conservative opposition to collecting biometric data on Texas drivers licenses in 2003. More to the point, once you're aware of the details of ACLU's actual litigation docket, it's clear the group's role is to protect religious freedom for everybody, including Christians.

On the latter subject, the South Texas Law Professor recommends an overly vitriolic but informative post that details numerous cases where ACLU represented religious people, churches and conservative groups
, including an interesting case where ACLU is defending a Catholic forced to go into a drug treatment center espousing Protestant doctrine. The overarching theme is protecting their First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom. (He also has this interesting post about a current Texas Supreme Court case with First Amendment religious liberty implications.)

The ACLU is a sprawling, diverse organization with hundreds of thousands of members nationally, and 50 state affiliates each selecting independently what litigation they'll take. You can nitpick about the wisdom of accepting this or that particular case, but taken as a whole, the anti-religion charge doesn't really stand.

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