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Once a bastion of free speech, the ACLU faces an identity crisis



This can be an overstatement. Mr Wizner, who heads the ACLU’s Freedom of Speech Project, represented National Security Agency informant Edward Snowden and shuffled important cases dealt with by his lawyers. But FIRE, he acknowledged, has taken a strong lead on campuses where so many subsequent battles are being fought.

“FIRE does not have the same voltage,” said Mr Wizner. “In ACLU, freedom of speech is one of 12 or 15 different values.”

Traditionally, the state branches of the ACLU monitor and argue cases of freedom of speech, but in recent years some have given up such battles. Here̵

7;s a few examples:

In 2015, students at the University of Missouri protested against racism and set up camp in a square. When a student journalist tried to take pictures and talk to protesters, students and a professor of journalism physically blocked the reporter from doing so. The ACLU in Missouri applauded the “brave” leadership of student activists and faculty, and two ACLU national officials wrote columns for the protests. They did not mention the rights to the First Amendment.

Four years later, at the University of Connecticut, two white students returning home late at night repeated out loud racial remarks. In the ensuing uproar, university police arrested and accused the students of making fun of their race.

The ACLU in Connecticut has asked the university to hire 10 black professors and staff and require a freshman course to end racism on campus. It makes no mention of the arrests, other than the opinion that the police are “an inherent white supreme institution.”

Two days later, Mr. Cole issued a correction: “Students’ behavior is’ not criminal, ‘” he said. “The First Amendment protects even offensive and hateful speech.”

Even the New York Civil Liberties Union, a traditionally independent member of the ACLU that created several national executive directors and spearheaded the defense of free speech cases, did not want to talk about these issues. A spokeswoman for the CEO, Donna Lieberman, said: “We don’t think there will be anything to add.”


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