As a German-American, I remember that the ACLU was founded in 1920 to defend the civil liberties of all of us who were suspected of disloyalty in World War I. As a child of the civil rights movement, I remember that it helped to shoulder the long legal battle for civil rights for all Americans. Fearing the government's co-opting of our religious communities by handouts and subventions, I know the ACLU can be counted on to combat that subversion of religious liberty.
All human institutions face critical moments, when they are challenged by a crucial issue. Sometimes they fail the test. Many ACLU members think it faced and failed a crucial test in 1940, when a seriously divided board of directors voted to exclude Elizabeth Gurley Flynn as a member of the board because she would not repudiate her membership in the Communist Party. I'm not so certain that it failed that test. I know that no Communist regime has honored what I regard as elemental civil liberties.
Sometimes an organization's enemies tell you that you should belong to it. Currently, the three ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments that former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore once installed in the state's Supreme Court building is beginning a national tour. The tour opened yesterday in Dayton, Tennessee, the site of the notorious Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. Uniting the gaudy display of public piety with the teaching of creationism is warning enough. But the case is sealed for me, when one of its sponsors announces:"The ACLU is still the enemy."
The ACLU has just met another critical moment in its history. For over 20 years, it has benefitted from the Combined Federal Campaign, which allows federal employees to make voluntary contributions to non-profit organizations, chosen by the donors from a list of 2,000 non-profits. Under the Patriot Act, however, participating organizations must agree not to employ anyone whose name appears on the government's list of suspected terrorists. Some names are there by mistake and people who are listed there have no means of challenging the list. So, the ACLU has refused to abide by the terms of the Patriot Act. It will take a loss of about $500,000 annually which it has received from the Combined Federal Campaign and it will sue the United States government. My membership card is so scotch-tapped together. I'm thinking about renewing my membership early this year.