ACLU Defends Free Speech Rights of Everyone

In today’s Wall Street Journal, writer Wendy Kaminer asserts that the ACLU has gradually moved from defending the free speech rights of everyone to only defending the rights of liberals. This is simply wrong, as a few minutes of research would have revealed.

Kaminer charges the ACLU with failing to weigh in on a San Diego free speech case, Harper v. Poway Unified School District. In fact, this affiliate has been working on an amicus brief for many months, and will be filing it on the schedule set by the court. If she had contacted us, or run a simple internet search, she would have discovered that when Harper filed his lawsuit, our then-legal director commented on the record to the San Diego Union Tribune, saying that “The school district is not empowered to censor based on what they deem inflammatory, it has to be based on a constitutional standard.” He noted that a t-shirt could not be construed as harassment because harassment has to be directed against a particular individual. (Harassment of LGBT students is a problem in schools, and is unlawful. The ACLU of San Diego submitted an amicus brief in Donovan v. Poway Unified School District, to show the many constitutional ways that schools can take action to prevent harassment.)

In April 2006, a Ninth Circuit panel issued an unprecedented opinion in Harper on new issues not addressed in the district court, greatly expanding the power of schools to censor speech. At that time, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties began working on an amicus brief taking issue with the panel opinion. The brief will be posted on this website when it is filed.

The San Diego affiliate, and the ACLU as a whole, have always defended and continue to defend the rights of everyone. If Kaminer had glanced at our website, she would have seen a number of recent examples: we defended the right of a 15-year-old to wear an American flag in her back pocket to school during tense immigration debates, and prevailed, and spoke up in defense of the free speech rights of a San Diego State University professor who is associated with the Minutemen.

Unfortunately, Kaminer did not let these facts get in the way of her argument. The ACLU has written a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal to set the record straight.