My new WSJ: will ACLU defend its own right to speak?

I’ve got a new opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal about the extraordinary recent happenings at William & Mary, part of the Virginia public university system, where activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement shouted down the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, Claire Gastañaga, at a scheduled talk where she was to deliver remarks on freedom of speech. Among the cries and chants heard: “ACLU, you protect Hitler, too,” “the oppressed are not impressed,” “the revolution will not uphold the Constitution,” and “liberalism is white supremacy.”

The follow-up was perhaps more disturbing still: after initially releasing a firm statement condemning the disruption, the ACLU of Virginia went back and removed much of the strongest language, acknowledging debate within its own ranks. In particular, it dropped language pointing out that the Constitution does not protect disruption (the so-called heckler’s veto) that prevents a speaker from speaking or audience members from hearing the speaker, and another passage pointing out that public campuses are subject to constitutional standards.

It’s enough (I argue) to remind you of Robert Frost’s quip about a liberal as someone too broadminded to take his own side in an argument. More seriously, it signals the continued erosion of the ACLU’s commitment to core speech and civil liberties issues, under pressure from a tide of activists who joined in its activities in pursuit of equality and social justice, not Bill of Rights issues. Further reading: Wendy Kaminer and followup.


  • … will ACLU defend its own right to speak?

    An excellent example of Betteridge’s law of headlines.

  • Those that favor only free speech they agree with are not truly in favor of the first amendment.