Principles are easy to maintain when we feel safe and secure, but they mean nothing when we cast them aside the moment some aspect of them makes us uncomfortable.
The American Civil Liberties Union is often misunderstood because of the odd bedfellows it has kept. When some people learn how the ACLU has stood up for the rights of NAMBLA and Neo-Nazis, they just don’t get it. How could an organization that claims to be “our nation’s guardian of liberty” champion such horrible people? Why should anyone even care about the civil rights of pedophiles and hatemongers? Should people like that even be entitled to civil rights?
When the ACLU takes on unpopular and controversial causes, the limits of our American principles are tested. Some people simply do not have the stomach for those tests because they are, quite understandably, afraid of the possible negative effects that “too much” freedom — as if there is such a thing — might have upon the bestial side of our (and perhaps their own) human nature.
But America is called the “land of the free and the home of the brave” because living in freedom requires an awesome amount of courage. We must have the fortitude to resist any temptation to curtail civil liberties, because freedom, by its very definition, can not be limited arbitrarily or rationalized away for the purpose of expediency or convenience.
Much to the consternation of civil authoritarians, the ACLU has, on many occasions, successfully argued that even the most vile and disgusting barely-human beings are entitled to due process and equal protection under the law, and that our First Amendment protects all speech1 — not just popular speech.
The recognition of NAMBLA’s and the Neo-Nazis’ rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is a crucial test precisely because their respective messages are so repulsive. If the rights of the likes of NAMBLA and the Neo-Nazis can be secured, recognized, guaranteed and protected, then we can rest assured that the forces of tyranny and oppression have been kept in check.
However, we must never falter when it comes to the protection and defense of our civil liberties, even when they are perceived as getting in the way of fighting our worst fears. No exceptions can be made when it comes to our civil and human rights because the only crimes to which a “zero tolerance” policy can be rationally and logically applied are tyranny and oppression.
There can be no prisoners taken in the fight against tyranny and oppression, for they are the most heinous crimes of all, often committed by perpetrators whose reactionary intentions seem benevolent, noble and even necessary for the common good. Well-intentioned tyrants and oppressors play upon our worst fears and tempt us with a false sense of security that will supposedly protect us from the specter of lesser crimes.
The fights against child molestation and bigotry are indeed noble causes, but we must never forget that freedom is noblest cause of all. Sacrifices must be made for the cause of freedom, and the most important sacrifice we make toward that cause is the lack of personal comfort that appears to come from the false sense of security that tyranny provides for the cowardly.
The ACLU is on the cutting edge of testing the limits of our Constitution and Bill of Rights and discovering that there really aren’t many left. In the wake of the historic recognitions of our rights to privacy2, the expansion of freedom, as it was laid out by our Founders a little over two centuries ago, is becoming more important than quelling the anxieties of vainglorious cowards who are quite willing to sacrifice freedom for all of us just to fill their own selfish need for solace.