The American Civil Liberties Union, long known for its support of the First Amendment, is dealing with internal dissension over defense of hate speech.
The ACLU has defended the free speech rights of conscientious objectors, labor organizations, civil rights activists, the Nation of Islam, the Ku Klux Klan and Nazis. But that hard-line free speech stance is coming under fire.
On the one side are those who say the First Amendment is used as a tool of the powerful, and the ACLU should not defend free speech rights of the far right, the New York Times reports. On the other side are those who say the ACLU’s role is to defend speech—no matter how offensive.
The New York Times noted that the ACLU’s budget nearly tripled to more than $300 million after the 2016 election of former President Donald Trump. But the group still has only four free speech lawyers on staff—the same number that it employed a decade ago.
New staff members hired as money flowed in “worked inside their policy silos,” the New York Times said, “focused on issues like immigration, transgender rights and racial justice.”
The ACLU adopted new guidelines in free speech cases after its Virginia organization defended the right of far-right groups to march in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. The Unite the Right rally turned violent, and a neo-Nazi who plowed his car into a crowd of racism protesters killed a paralegal.
The new guidelines suggest that lawyers considering free speech representation of groups whose values “are contrary to our values” should weigh how such a case could give offense to marginalized groups.”
This article was originally posted in the ABA Journal.